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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.

  • http://www.future-shape-of-church.org/ Edward Green

    Probably.

    A friend wanted to light candles in an Orthodox centre Eastern Europe once, he didn’t have any change so he handed over a note to the lady in the booth, expecting to get change even though he did not speak the language.

    Her eyes lit up, she disappeared into a back room and came back with a paschal sized candle!

    It is probably still burning!

  • Simongarrett

    In, I think, 1991, I was visiting York Minster when a student. I was asked to leave, as a service was about to begin. Not ‘A service is about to begin, would I like to participate in the congregation’….

  • Simongarrett

    In, I think, 1991, I was visiting York Minster when a student. I was asked to leave, as a service was about to begin. Not ‘A service is about to begin, would I like to participate in the congregation’….

  • Tony

    I’m not aware that the RCC has ever claimed that buildings were stolen at the Reformation. Surely the point is that these historic buildings belong to the nation, not to any church.

  • Sam

    I am an Anglican (although I would be very hesitant to call myself Protestant). I live in the diocese of St Albans. The cathedral was once St Albans Abbey — the premier abbey in pre-Reformation England, built on the site of the martyrdom of St Alban, protomartyr of this country. The cathedral does not charge admission (thank God), nor does it make any heavy-handed attempt to solicit donations. It survives, though admittedly it does not receive as many tourists as Canterbury, Westminster Abbey or indeed York Minster.

    Moreover, the cathedral is aware of its heritage as part of the undivided Church, with a history that dates to before the council of Chalcedon! There is a weekly Catholic mass and a monthly Orthodox liturgy (as well as a Free Church service). If you think that we’re “thieving prods” or some such, we’re not likely to persuade you otherwise — but if you come to the cathedral, you may be surprised to find a faithful bastion of the one, holy and, yes, Catholic and apostolic, church.

  • RJ

    I don’t see why would they belong to the nation, i.e. the state. They were financed by benefactors to the Catholic Church of their time.

  • RJ

    I agree that it is quite silly (though amusing) to put it in those terms. I think we can let bygones be bygones after such a long time. The main point is that you shouldn’t have to pay to go into a church, whichever community is currently administering the building.

  • Hilary White

    It’s done all over Italy and it’s a scam. The Italian state owns and maintains all the churches so there is no issue of upkeep as there is in Britain. It’s a scandal. But if you tell the guy you’re going in for Mass or to pray you’re not charged in most places.

    In Rome, John Paul II requested that all the churches of the City remain free all the time. He’s still very much honoured in memory here, so we don’t know how long it will last. I imagine Benedict will ask that it be continued should the issue ever arise.

  • Basingstoke

    It is high time we altered Sir Christopher Wren’s epitaph to make it read:  SI MONUMENTUM REQUIRIS REDDITE ET CIRCUMSPICE

  • Tiggy

    I really meant within the Abbey Church itself?

  • Brian Adfabilis

    I agree with the sentiments expressed here about charging to enter a church. However, I would like to point out that the Roman Catholic Church in Spain at Barcelona Cathedral  adopts a similar practice and charges for entrance to the cathedral outside of mass times. Other churches in Spain also charge for entry. It is an outrage whether comitted by Anglican or Roman Catholic authorities.

  • AB

    £16 for Westminster Abbey and £14.50 for St Paul’s.

  • Anonymous

    “I am an Anglican (although I would be very hesitant to call myself Protestant).”Well come over to Rome! 

  • GFFM

    I hope there is an affirmative answer to this question. I somehow doubt it. I would love to know the answer. I hope someone can provide it. The larger issue is that the Catholic origins need to be countenanced.  The intentional cultural forgetting is a phenomenon of these times; it is especially evident in the Catholic patrimony throughout the UK.

  • GFFM

    They are historical buildings and yes they are the patrimony of the entire culture which has benefited from Catholic cultural foundations. But they were founded as churches, for the worship of the Catholic liturgy; hence they are not merely historic, but sacred and their origins and character should be countenanced by the entire society.

  • Tom, Cardiff

    As a musician who’s life is greatly enriched by work in a variety of Anglican and Roman Catholic cathedrals I often enter these buildings in the capacity of a visitor, and have been involved in several multi million pound fundraising intiatives to support the upkeep, not only the buildings, but the rich Christian community life they foster. More often than not upon entering these buildings I am welcomed by a volunteer or duty chaplain as a tourist, and offered informative literature and a hand of friendship. I have only once experienced the disgraceful practice you describe, and when I remarked that six pounds was alot of money just to post a prayer request and light a candle my money was immediately refunded.  

  • Hamish Redux

    Leeds is also worth seeing, in particular Kirkstall Abbey, which recently hosted its first Mass since the Reformation. (Ignored by all the ignorant Londoners, it seems…)

    I do find the charges at York Minster exorbitant; by going in through a side door and attending Evensong (which is worth it for the music alone, but its Anglican theology is not usually offensive), you can avoid paying, and then stay in the Minster afterwards.

    Ripon cathedral is still free. Less impressive, but well worth a visit if you are in the area.

  • J.Jones

    I am an Anglican priest and find some of the comments here quite incredible. These cathedrals were built at a time when Europe was simply ‘christendom’. The Catholic and Anglican churches are developments from this and we cannot ignore the fact that many people chose to embrace the protestant/Anglican view of the Faith and took their church buildings with them. I know there are many ways of seeing this but to describe them as ‘stolen’ is rather strange.

    May I make another observation? The cathedral of St Mark in Venice is filled with items looted from Constantinople as are so many churches in Italy. How should the Orthodox regard them? We all need a good deal of humility when we look back at the history of the Church.

     I had thought that the Catholic Herald was a serious paper and William Oddie an informed commentator. I am now profoundly sorry to realise that this is not the case.

  • Charles Martel

    Rev. Jones, you make a good point about St Mark’s and the need for humility.  However, your other points are defective.  Most people, particularly in the North, didn’t choose to embrace the Anglican view of the faith; rather it was imposed on them by force by an oppressive government.  And the Catholic Church is hardly a development from European Christendom; rather it is identical with it.

  • Charles Martel

    A Tridentine Catholic Mass was celebrated in York Minister on 26 March, the feast of Saint Margaret Clitherow, martyr of York: http://forestmurmurs.blogspot.com/2011/03/ef-mass-in-york-minster.html

  • Faithful Roman Catholic

    I suggest that you read Eamon Duffey’s “The Stripping of the Altars” and  “The Voice s of Morebath: Reformation and Rebellion in an English Village.”  Coming from the States, I was shocked and disappoionted that an entrance fee was required to enter Westminster Abbey London to pray

  • Bob

    What a very bitter piece and quite un-Christian! 
     
    All the Anglican Cathedrals that charge an entrance fee I have visited as a tourist or a worshipper are very aware of what they are – a church.  They are very sensitive to the needs of worshippers and all have ways in which those coming to worship are able to worship. The decision to charge is, I’m sure, not an easy one for those running these financially independent Cathedrals. It’s born out of the real and practical necessity for a steady income to cover all sorts of daily costs to maintain these buildings as Christian beacons in an increasingly secular world.  One of the respondants here mentioned a local church trying to raise £60,000 which is probably echoed across the land, now begin to imagine the sort of costs many of these Cathedrals face.  Stop wasting your energy being so disgruntled (you’ll get your chance to worship in these Cathedrals), and work with others in promoting these incredible buildings.

    Whoever owns them and whether you care or not, these buildings will be lost without regular incomes.

  • Guest

    With the utmost due respect to Mr Oddie, I think the main point has been missed. Many great houses of God, whether Anglican or Roman Catholic, are now treated as architectural or historical monuments. Of course, when millions tramp through them as tourists the maintenance costs rise drastically. The effect is more noticeable in Anglican Cathedrals because of the influence of what is commonly called Erastianism (although true Erastianism is concerned with issues of law and justice) and its tendency to secularise all things holy.

    The simple solution is to make clear that these houses are not attractions. They are living and actice places of worship. While all are welcomed, it needs to be made clear that they do not exist to provide souvenir photographs. A simple dress code would do much to preserve a suitable environment, while limiting the traffic that creates high maintenance burdens. Perhaps, as well, the fees should be payable only if someone brings in a camera. It takes money from tourists while allowing worshippers in for free. It might encourage more people to stop and appreciate the beauty of holiness.

  • Dbrey

    Mont St Michel did not charge us to attend mass or religious services there, but did charge when we went back for the guided tour outside of mass.  I believe that Mont St. Michel’s church is closed when neither religious services nor tours are taking place.  

  • Dbrey

    Attached is the link to Mont St. Michel’s current admission policies to its abbey church.  (Mass is free, but there is a charge for tours.) 
    http://www.ot-montsaintmichel.com/en/lieux-visite.htm 

    There is also a parish church on Mont St. Michel which, I believe, is always free but is generally closed except for religious services.  

  • Tiggy

    Well I can tell you that a request to have a Mass( EF) in Paisley Abbey has been rejected.

  • Paul, Bristol

    I wasn’t refused entry MrsHightTea, I went in and when I saw the sign saying that entry was a ‘donation’ of£6 I refused to drop money in the coffers.  If you’ve never been to Wells Cathedral before it is worth a visit and well worth the donation.  We think nothing of paying £10 for entry to National Trust properties but I personally don’t go to those to pray.

  • Diane Antoni

    AMEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • samson

    “Less impressive” ! You jest, as they said in my schooldays. Different, but not less!

  • mydogroeo

    When visiting Vienna a few years ago, I stopped in at St. Stephan’s cathedral.  I was told that I had to pay to enter the Catholic cathedral.  When I refused, I was treated quite rudely by the staff by whom I brushed in order to get to visit the Blessed Sacrament.  Shame on Catholic churches who also are asking us to pay to pray.

  • mydogroeo

    Let’s talk about looting the Catholic Church’s properties by a few English monarchs beginning with Henry VIII.  Were there no churches and monasteries there before England caved to that horrible man?

  • samson

    This is absurd. The admission fee dates back many years and is not some new imposition. It is a sign of Dr Oddie’s ignorance of all things Anglican that this is news to him. It is disingenuous not to mention that the ticket is valid for six months, during which time one can  use it as often as one wishes. I recently visited the Minster with a friend from South Africa. He simply said that he wished to attend the next service. The verger said “but of course sir” and ushered him in with the utmost courtesy. Reading this stuff about Dr Oddie and his son, one is reminded of the common saying about those who can “pick a fight in an empty  room”.

  • GFFM

    It’s a shame truly that you find them incredible. The palpable and painful history of the Reformation in England for both many Protestants and Catholics is very real and not simply a figment of our imaginations. To say that you do not understand the word “stolen” could illustrate a kind of detachment from how many people experience these great churches of their heritage. More humility is both definitely needed to see how many of us here on this page feel when walking into the place where Becket was murdered. In the case of Canterbury, Westminster Abbey, Leeds and all of the others, we are not talking just about artifacts, we are talking about the places themselves, the sacred spaces, the Churches themselves. There is a distinction to be made which apparently you cannot see. Surely, the disenfranchisement of Catholics since 1535 in England is a part of history you know something about. Shouldn’t it help you to understand the comments below?

  • Qwerty

    Thank you for the point about Duffy’s “stripping the Altars”. Yes, I have read it and of course you Are right to observe that it wasn’t a simple process. But, I think that’s my point. Undoubtedly there were those who embraced the Reformation – afterall Henry VIII actively resisted a popularist reformist movement during the early years of his reign (hence being awarded by the Pope the title ‘Defender of the Faith’).

    In regard to entrance charges, of course it is a denial in part of the mission, both ancient and modern, of these buildings but when the fabric itself needs continual repair from the footfall of visitors who enter them (and by and large contribute very little, how are they to be maintained? There is no state funding for these churches and they aremasively expensive to maintain.

  • J Jones

    Thank for your reply Charles. True much of the North ( and West) rose against some of the Reformation reforms but other areas such as London embraced them. My point is that it wasn’t a simple process. If I may I’d like to disagree with your second point because from where I sit it seems to me that all of our churches were moulded by the process that was both the Reformation and the Counter Reformation.

  • J Jones

    Mydogroeo, I’m not sure it was quite as simple as that. My point is that many places the people willingly embraced a Reformed faith.

  • Part-time_pilgrim

    Whilst it is wrong to charge worshipers to enter a place of
    worship to pray. It is also wrong to claim that Anglican churches were stolen
    from the Catholic Church. Although professor Duffy does demonstrate that the
    English “Reformation” was not embraced fervently by ordinary worshipers in the
    way that some would like to believe, Henry VIII could not have instituted his
    changes without the consent of the country. Professor Duffy’s work shows that there
    was a continuity of clergy the worshipers during the religious changes of
    Henry, Edward, Mary and Elizabeth. As time went on England and her people became
    firmly anti-Catholic. The decision to remain Catholic was taken by a very small
    minority and I don’t think we can make an argument that we have any claim on
    these buildings over the majority who embraced Anglicanism.

    I made a pilgrimage to Durham in May and was not charged for
    entry (so claims that all Anglican Cathedrals charge are false) and was happy
    to make a donation. I intend to visit York in August, and whilst I do not think
    they should charge, I will pay the £9 on the grounds that if I pay the train
    fare and for a pub lunch I ought to support the Minster too.

  • Part-time_pilgrim

    When you say “many people chose to embrace the
    protestant/Anglican view of the Faith and took their church buildings with
    them.” you are essentially correct although the situation is more
    complicated than that and some might question the extent which the choice was a
    free one. However to say: ” The Catholic and Anglican churches are
    developments from this” is to argue that the Catholic church came in to
    existence at the same time as the “Reformation” which is clearly
    false.

  • Tiggy

    While you are of couse correct that” Europe was Christendom” at the time of these Cathedrals being built.
     There was of course only one Church at that time. Some may argue this was wrong and we need the thousands of Churches there are today.Myself, I think not.
     To say that “The Catholic and Anglican Churches are developments of this” Is a fair way off the mark.
     History tells us that the Anglican Church was an almost complete rupture from that original Church, and that the Catholic Church, far from being a “development” from it, is continuity with it.

  • Tiggy

    While you are of couse correct that” Europe was Christendom” at the time of these Cathedrals being built.
     There was of course only one Church at that time. Some may argue this was wrong and we need the thousands of Churches there are today.Myself, I think not.
     To say that “The Catholic and Anglican Churches are developments of this” Is a fair way off the mark.
     History tells us that the Anglican Church was an almost complete rupture from that original Church, and that the Catholic Church, far from being a “development” from it, is continuity with it.

  • samson

    But why humiliate yourself by sneaking in? For very many years I was privileged to spend at least an hour a week in the Minster. Anyone who enters by the main door and says that he wishes to attend the next service will be immediately ushered past the queue of visitors. Afterwards, he will of course be welcome to stay and look around for as long as he desires. Why sully your visit by the miserable pleasure of “pulling a fast one” on the staff there?

  • Tiggy

    I am sure there were plenty of people who embraced the Reformation, but there were plenty who did not.
     Interestingly in the remoter parts of Scotland, where the new Church( in this case Presbyterian) was not enforced with the same rigour as elsewhere on this island, the original Church persisted,. As it does to this day.

  • Tiggy

    I am sure there were plenty of people who embraced the Reformation, but there were plenty who did not.
     Interestingly in the remoter parts of Scotland, where the new Church( in this case Presbyterian) was not enforced with the same rigour as elsewhere on this island, the original Church persisted,. As it does to this day.

  • Tiggy

    I am sure there were plenty of people who embraced the Reformation, but there were plenty who did not.
     Interestingly in the remoter parts of Scotland, where the new Church( in this case Presbyterian) was not enforced with the same rigour as elsewhere on this island, the original Church persisted,. As it does to this day.

  • Waitamo

    So, St Peter’s in Rome is now free too?
    BTW it’s the peole who are the Church, not a building … Nice as this one maybe.

  • Tiggy

    You are correct, the Church is its people. But edifices are needed. There has never, as far as I know, been a charge for St Peter s in Rome.

  • Waitamo

    Yes, that’s right it’s only the Cupola at €6 or €7 that’s charged for.
    And yes again, buildings are necessary – but only to facilitate the work and ministry of the church – God’s people.

  • http://fora.tv/myfora/9668/Invictus_88 Invictus_88

    …but not enough of them to erect their own places of worship?

  • William Watson + TORONTO

    I do agree with these sentiments. This is the practice of many historic, vast churches. I love them and they are so very inspiring. Entrance fees, eg, are charged at Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s, which never belonged to Rome, the Lutheran cathedral in Berlin, and so on. None of them, however, charges admission for worshippers. This is to their credit. As has been suggested, the public should be invited to consider making a suggested donation. These great buildings are extremely costly to maintain. Westminster Roman Cathedral in London notes how much it costs to operate that cathedral and suggests that people make a donation of only 3 pounds. Even at St James’ Cathedral, Toronto, it costs $6000 a day to maintain the cathedral’s ministry of work, witness and worship.
    Fr Bill Watson+, TORONTO.

  • Ronk

    When I and my family were in Florence, we visited Santa Croce. The entrance fee was very small, a couple of euros, reduced to nil for the elderly. When inside, as soon as it was clear that we wanted to pray, an employee showed us to sveral roped off areas which were not open to paying tourists who had just come to gawk (and who missed out on some of the best artworks in the roped off areas).
    We paid no fee at S.Maria Novella. I think you have been ripped off by one of the beggars who station themselves outside major tourist-atrtaction churches in Italy and demand a donation, which many people assume must be a compulsory entrance fee and that the beggar is a church employee and teh mobney goes to the church instead of into the beggar’s (or his/her boss’s) pocket.