Historic Churches 2018

BCD SPECIAL REPORT ON HISTORIC CHURCHES 25 TH ANNUAL EDITION 5 CHURCH TOURISM Jonathan Taylor H ISTORICALLY, THE architecture and decoration of religious buildings across Europe have always been accorded the finest workmanship and artistry available, and in the UK today the larger cathedrals and abbeys are among the most visited attractions in the country. Although less well visited, our small parish churches too include world-class architecture, their interiors lined with the finest works of art in stained glass and sculptural ornament. Many are substantially intact medieval buildings, and often they are by far the oldest buildings in their neighbourhood, having been cherished and embellished by the community from one century to the next. No wonder then that historic churches and chapels are loved by visitors from this country and abroad. Although some churches see it as part of their mission to welcome all visitors, whether they wish to worship or not, others take the view that these buildings are sacred spaces, built to the glory of God. They are not museums or art galleries, so why should they open up their buildings to cater for the needs of agnostics? Firstly, from a simple, practical point of view, few congregations (if any) have the wealth to maintain these buildings without substantial outside help. Most rely on public funding and the assistance of charitable bodies for essential repairs to keep their buildings water tight, and for the conservation of their works of art. Organisations such as the Heritage Lottery Fund prioritise their grant assistance according to public benefit, so keeping the church open to the public is usually a primary requirement. Likewise, congregations also have to consider whether it is acceptable for them to accept public support without accepting public access. In areas of the country with high crime levels, it is perhaps understandable that some parishioners see locking their place of worship as the best way to protect it. However, Ecclesiastical, the largest insurer of places of worship in the UK, actually encourages congregations to keep their churches open during daylight hours. As their guidance note Keeping Your seem counter-intuitive to some, but a locked and deserted church is more likely to attract vandalism, and the best defence is actually to encourage more frequent use. It is well known that the nave of parish churches was used in the medieval period for a wide range of secular A model of the medieval layout of Carlisle Cathedral provides thought-provoking historic interpretation for visitors, without distracting from the character of the surroundings Church Open and Secure explains, ‘An open door enables people to find a quiet place to pray, it offers somewhere to sit and think, and it enables visitors to the area to enjoy any historical treasures you may have. A steady flow of legitimate visitors also helps deter those with criminal intent’ (bc-url.com/open-church ). It may