Britain’s Anglican cathedrals are in a state of decline due to a lack of tourists, rising maintenance costs and internal leadership problems, according to reports.
Although of immense cultural and historical importance, many cathedrals lack funding and are facing mounting debts, reports The Observer newspaper (Jan. 11). While Anglican cathedrals are virtually required to remain open all the time, the “triple responsibility of maintaining a living heritage of music and liturgy, maintaining the built heritage, and offering witness to the Christian faith is proving an intolerable burden for many cathedrals,” says one official. Half of cathedrals are running a deficit, while the others are in a state of disrepair. The decrease of tourists over terrorism fears and the rising costs of health and safety insurance are the main reason for the financial problems.
Several of the most prominent cathedrals are also experiencing a leadership dearth in the midst of these financial difficulties. Jonathan Petre of The Telegraph newspaper reports that to the alarm of senior clerics, the allure of one of the most prestigious ecclesiastical posts since Anthony Trollope wrote Barchester Towers seems to be waning.”
Suitable candidates to fill the post of dean of these cathedrals are put off, say insiders, by the financial and other scandals which have embroiled cathedrals over the past 20 years. The Anglican news service Virtuosity(December 10) cites the newspaper as reporting that the longest vacancy is at the 13th century Salisbury Cathedral, where there has been no dean since the retirement of the Very Rev Derek Watson nearly 15 months ago. Wells Cathedral, which dates from 1180, has had no dean for eight months, Norwich for six, Rochester for five and York Minster for three. The delay in appointing new deans when cathedrals are under huge pressure has caused growing frustration among senior clergy.
The Dean of Canterbury, the Very Rev. Robert Willis, chairman of the Deans’ Conference, said he has “never known this many vacancies”. The Very Rev Trevor Beeson, the former Dean of Winchester, said: “Ten years ago the job was very attractive. But it has become exceedingly busy and responsible now and it could involve a great deal of administration. Many clergy just don’t want to become involved in that.”