For a bit of whimsy on a Friday afternoon, we have two reports from England of unusually creative ways to highlight the space of cathedrals. Following last week’s news that Rochester Cathedral had installed a miniature golf course in its nave, Norwich Cathedral followed suit by installing a helter skelter:
A cathedral has installed a 55ft-tall helter skelter in its nave so that visitors can enjoy a better view of its ornate roof.
The Rev Canon Andy Bryant, of Norwich Cathedral, said the idea came to him when he was visiting the Sistine Chapel in Rome.
He said: “I had the slightly risky thought of ‘I know this is amazing, but actually the ceiling at Norwich Cathedral is every bit as wonderful’.”
The Rev Bryant added: “We have one of the greatest collections of medieval roof bosses anywhere in northern Europe. The trouble is they are so high up that most people never get a chance to really appreciate them.
“And so was born the idea, could we get people up higher to these roof bosses and so appreciate that they are exquisite art as they are the most beautiful pieces of stone carving but also the story that’s captured within them which is the story of the Bible.”
Neither installation is without its critics. Newsweek reports that:
Critics, who include religious leaders and historic preservationists, complain the free game is a misuse of one of England’s most historic sacred spaces.
“I was ‘ordained’ as an Anglican in this Cathedral,” tweeted Father David Palmer, now a Catholic priest. “What an embarrassing shambles.”
Christian Episcopal Bishop Gavin Ashenden called installing mini-golf in a cathedral “a really serious mistake—perhaps born of desperation.”
“The idea that people are so trivial that they can be almost tricked into a search for God by entertaining them with a golf course is a serious-category error,” Ashenden told the BBC.
The Archbishop of Canterbury pushed back, though, telling Rochester Cathedral canton Matthew Rushton, “If you don’t know how to have fun in cathedrals then you’re not doing your job properly.”
According to the BBC, the same bishop is also critical of Norwich’s installation:
Dr Ashenden, Missionary Bishop for the Christian Episcopal Church, said the clergy at Norwich Cathedral had been “unprofessional” and were “making a mistake about what a cathedral is good for”.
He said there was no evidence that tourists become Christians and “just to put in entertainment is naff”.
“For such a place, steeped in mystery and marvel to buy in to sensory pleasure and distraction, is to poison the very medicine it offers the human soul,” he said.
Fortunately, both are temporary. The golf course at Rochester will be removed at the end of August, and the helter skelter leaves Norwich on August 18.