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If anybody tries to make you pay to enter an Anglican cathedral (built by the Catholic Church) refuse and enter anyway

You should, of course, make a voluntary contribution to its maintenance; but it’s your decision. They have no right to stop you

By on Wednesday, 27 July 2011

York Minster: view it online for free (PA photo)

York Minster: view it online for free (PA photo)

In 1967 a survey revealed that York Minster was close to collapse, and that something like £30 million (probably more) in today’s money was needed urgently to save it. The money was raised in a week, entirely from contributions from within Yorkshire. Double that was spent over the next five years, to reinforce and strengthen the Minster’s foundations and roof.

The speed of the reaction to this sudden crisis is a vivid demonstration of what this truly wonderful building means to all Yorkshiremen, whether they are “religious” or not. I wasn’t particularly religious myself (indeed, I was still a lifelong atheist) when, one day in the late 1960s, or maybe the early 70s, I visited the Minster (purely to have another look at this extraordinary piece of architecture, for that’s all it was to me then). As I stood in the middle of that majestic nave, and looked upwards, my entire life changed. It was borne in on me very powerfully that I had to ask myself a question: was it really possible that that was based on a lie? The answer was unavoidable: this great anthem in stone to the power and majesty of God could only be based on the truth: there was indeed a God, and nothing could for me ever be the same again.

So the Minster means a great deal to me: and that is why I am very angry indeed with the current dean and chapter of York. My son, who was born in London (who is nevertheless still half a Yorkshireman) decided, with his wife, that they would spend a few days holiday that was due to them, in Yorkshire. They spent a day in York (spend it all in York, I said, don’t bother with Leeds and Sheffield). If you only have a day, I said, the most important thing is to spend some time in the Minster. I asked them when they got back how they had reacted to their visit. Well, my son said, we only saw it from the outside: it cost £9 each to get in, and we were a bit hard up.

The fact is that the Minster authorities have no moral right whatever to prevent anyone freely entering this building. I know that money has to be raised for its maintenance. Nevertheless, this is the house of God: and to charge money for entrance to it is tantamount to simony, one definition of which is “trafficking for money in spiritual things”. I looked up their website to see what possible excuse they had for raising money in this disgustingly secular fashion, like charging for a go on the London Eye or the big dipper. They certainly seem to want people to visit the building: this is their (barely literate) sales pitch:

Visiting York Minster

A visit to York Minster is your moment in the long history of northern Europe’s greatest gothic cathedral. You’ll see traces of every age from the Roman occupation of York onwards to the future of this working and worshipping church.

In this section of the site we’ll show you everything you can do at York Minster, and how to make arrangements to visit us.

A good place to start is our virtual tour or interactive map, which will show you round the highlights of the Minster. Or look at our timeline, which illustrates the Minster’s rich history.

You can also find information on opening times and entrance prices and Concerts.

Well, there’s one thing about the virtual tour: if you don’t know the building, you can have a look (pan up towards the roof) to see what I am on about. But there’s not much on the site that I could find about this great building being a witness to the glory of God, though the mealy-mouthed “mission statement” does include the following (it could hardly say anything less): “… the splendour of the building, and the care that has gone into it over the centuries…. reflects the glory of God. It inspires the pleasure we take in welcoming visitors of all ages, and from all over the world, whether Christian or not.” Welcoming them, eh? For their money, or because you actually care about their immortal souls?

We are told that “Charges are made for those visiting for sightseeing” but that “No charges are made for those who wish to enter the Minster to pray or light a candle: please ask a member of staff on arrival”. But nothing was said to my son by any member of staff on his arrival, about entering “to pray or light a candle”: he was just told he had to pay or be turned away. And what exactly is the mission of these people? “Through all the activities of York Minster,” they gush, “runs our belief that God wants to show the world his love”: oh yeah? By charging them £9 a head to enter His house? And what exactly is this rigid distinction between those who want “to pray or light a candle” and those “visiting for sightseeing”? If sightseers find themselves praying (it’s the kind of effect that a building like this can have; it certainly did on me) or lighting a candle, can they ask for their money back?

I have had this problem before, getting into Anglican cathedrals built by the Catholic Church and purloined at the Reformation. They have no right to stop you (or anyone else) entering: simply refuse politely and go in. I know that buildings like this need maintaining. But I would almost certainly pay more than the entrance fee as a voluntary contribution, and I usually do. A notice suggesting a voluntary contribution, even specifying a recommended sum and with a desk there to collect the money (they could hand out a free guide or something to encourage people to give) would avoid this appalling and deeply secular tourist entrance fee.

Nobody who enters a holy place should be regarded as a tourist, simply there as a source of revenue: each one of them has an immortal soul, and whether they know it or not they are all in search of God. They are more likely, much more likely, to find Him if they are allowed freely to enter His house.

  • Invictus_88

    They do, of course, belong to the Anglican Church. They are nonetheless Catholic buildings (designed and built to Catholic specifications, and consecrated to Catholic service) in Protestant ownership.

    Your logic in arguing the legitimacy of Anglican seizure would seem today to take them out of Anglican hands, but whether into Catholic or secular hands depends on one’s perspective.

  • asg1


  • Dolly

    Why do you think I despise Romans catholics? Is anger and frustration your only response when it is pointed out your church is in fact the Roman one? 

    I am Anglo catholic but would not expect anyone to refer to our Anglo-catholic Christian church, as you obviously do, by improper use of a word that erroneously elevates our standing and global reach in its entirety. Much of your roman teachings are simply not accepted by the orthodox church in the East and also here in the UK and its realms and dominions so the universality of Rome’s church and any claim to it is unfounded.
    Personally, I am very happy to have our Anglican patrimony referred as Canterburians if that pleases you but I think this would be more telling of your own anxieties than mine. 

  • Dolly

    The only laughable comments I see are those that demand the return of a few buildings that fell down ages ago with a few land leases that once supported Roman structues expiring some many years ago.

  • Dolly

    Whats disgusting?  The truth?

  • Marion (Mael Muire)

    Anger and frustration should be familiar to you: they what prompted Henry VIII to break with Christ, when he found that Christ’s representative on Earth, the Bishop of Rome, found no merit in his baseless claim that the original dispensation allowing Henry to marry his brother’s widow was invalid.

    In a murderous rage, Henry broke with Christ’s Church, and, in effect, set himself up as far as he dared, as  a Deity Incarnate like Caesar.

  • Elizabeth

    Interesting.  So you advocate lying in order to circumvent the fee process?

  • Peter

    “purloined at the Reformation”
    That has to be seen in the context of successive bishops of Rome purloining the entire Catholic Church in the West.
    There is another issue. These buldings have been cared for and preserved in the glorious, understated Anglican aesthetic tradition. If you got your hands on them you would probably fill them with old animal bones, sinister syrupy pictures and other bits of foreign tat.

  • Invictus_88

    So glorious a tradition that hardly any Anglicans bother going to church anymore? So glorious a tradition than Sunday attendance by the 3% Roman Catholic minority now exceeds that of the ~20%+ Anglican population?

    Well, Peter. If you say so.

  • Matthew Tomlinson

    That really is a dim argument, Sinner. Quite apart from the fact that a good number of our most visited cathedrals were entirely built AFTER the Reformation (think S.Pauls, the most visited of all, Liverpool, Truro), what about the immense resources put into maintaining and improving them by the post Reformation Anglican church. S.Albans and Llandaff, for example, would be mere ivy clad ruins but for their Victorian rebuildings.

  • Matthew Tomlinson

    Mass according to the Anglican Rite is offered daily, as well you know.

  • Matthew Tomlinson

    ‘Reddite’ S.Pauls to whom? The protestant builders who constructed it?

  • Matthew Tomlinson

    Really? I’m not sure that you are fully appraised of the facts. Giving per capita is way lower in the RC church than in any other denomination in this country. RC dioceses and their cathedrals are in a dire financial situation at present, and, I don’t think that you will find much difference in the attendance figures, without even taking into account the fact that there are three Anglican Cathedrals for every one RC Cathedral in England.

  • Matthew Tomlinson

    No Peter, the bones and syrupy tat are good. Bring them on. What Johnny RC would have done to them is ‘Killarney’ them and make them look like the flight deck of the Starship Enterprise. And replace the pipe organs with electronic gimcrack because they couldn’t be bothered to raise money for their restoration. He ought to be jolly grateful to us for our careful and responsible stewardship of the mediaeval cathedrals,

  • Bayymore

    I am trying to figure out why it is that we are seeking to impose our 21st century thinking on persons from centuries past?  They made their decisions based on the faith they held dear.  It is rather awful of us to say what they should or should not have done.
    By the way, history has shown that the church in virtually all its branches, Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism et al, have not always seemingly displayed the true love of Christ.  Slavery, the burnings at the stake, the crusades all come to mind!  Let us kindly end the quest for “one up-manship”. 

  • Vandrefalk

    I’m sorry rev Jones, but you make it sound as though Catholicism and Anglicanism arose together from an earlier form of religion, “christendom.” You do know of course that Catholicsm and this “christendom” were and are the same thing. It was Anglicanism that “developed” from this, or in your rosy description, of many people chosing to embrace this new view of faith, people who found that their christendom had been hijacked for sinful personal and political reasons by their Tudor monarchs, their churches taken over by the new form of religion, their priests banished and their attendance at the new form of worship on Sundays required by law with severe sanctions for those who did not. They witnessed the desecration of their beloved churches, the burning and destruction of holy books, relics, sacred artefacts, sacramental vessels, stained glass, and so on, not to mention the national tragedy of the disolution of the monasteries, those glorious pearls of the Church in England, with the catastrophic social upheaval of the end to the charitable work of the religious, casting into vagrancy of many thousands of religious, that is those who did not suffer a marty’s fate, and the permanent loss for England, the Dowry of Mary, of its greatest heritage. Catholics know this, we are aware of it every time we visit a pre-reformation “Anglican” church or cathedral, or those woeful reminders of past glories in the ruins of abbeys. You studied church history. You must have a better idea than you admit to about how many people in the situation when Anglicanism arose really “chose to embrace” all this.

  • Clive Sweeting

    I agree with the tenor of this response. There was considerable debate at York with the archbishop opposing the charges but having ultimately to concede the economic realities. The problem is when children and young families are discouraged from familiarising themselves with this heritage. Public funding should embrace their needs.
    Incidentally on another tangent, Montalembert in his description of his journey in the 1830s claims that the Catholic gentry of Yorkshire were responsible for funding the preservation of York Minster from collapse.

  • Sandy

    They could be converted to mosques.  That is what happened when the hordes took over Constantinople, now Istanbul.

  • Bob

    This is because many of the big museums are now state funded.
    Cathedrals fund themselves (i.e. no central church funds, no state funds). 
    They require anything from £5,000 – £15,000 a day to stay open.
    Donation boxes do not work as it amounts to a few pence per person.
    Cathedrals do not charge for worship, as is so often stated here.
    Use it as a church and take your families/children to a service for free, or pay and visit like a heritage property.
    If a voluntary church tax (similar to Germany) was introduced in this country to help support these buildings how many citizens would choose to opt out…
    How “outraged” will golfinggrannie and others here be when a major Cathedral is actually closed due to falling masonry…

  • Aging Papist

    It looks as if the Dean and Chapter of York have taken a page out of popish fund-raising techniques. An entrance “fee” is really very tacky, but, it is consoling to note the CofE (the Anglo Catholics may be an exception) refuses to sell fake relics with promises of miracles and salvation.  Just go to Rome, that Sanctuary of Sin, and see how the hawking of relics continues to this day.

  • Aging Papist

    The stripping of the Catholic churches in America,with the full cooperation of the incompetent American hierarchy, over the past 42 years is almost as destructive as anything Richard Cromwell and the puritans did in the 16th and 17th centuries.  It is little wonder so many Catholics are, at long last, rushing to rebuild their churches in a more traditional style.

  • Geoffroy Mjollnir

    The problem is that the CofE hierarchy has lost its true connection with the Faith.

    It is therefore a failing business that has lost its core “customers” and now sells itself to whoever it can to raise the money to continue to retain its “assets”.

    I have visited a number of CofE churches, the interesting and most historical ones always being Catholic in origin.

    But, sadly, what also strikes me is the lack of “presence” that I sense. This is not deliberate on my part – in fact it saddens me. They seem hollow, empty, somehow. I meet nice pleasant people volunteering to show us around but they themselves seem sad and lost in these places.

    Any comments?

    And for the record, many Catholic Parishes seem to be going the same way.

  • Geoffroy Mjollnir

    I will read these books. Thank you.
    My own family stayed true through the Penal Years ans both where I live now and my fathers village still retain a vivid history of outward conformity, resistance and private Catholicism down through the centuries.

  • Invictus_88

    An “aging” Papist indeed, if you remember such things! It was a minority crime in Luther’s time, and has long-since been stamped out.

    Libelling the current Church of simony is pretty risible.

  • HHH

    Does one need  doctorate to spout this sort of venom?

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