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More Cathedral Madness?

More Cathedral Madness?

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.


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Julia Christian

Sounds like a brilliant idea for churches and cathedrals , a natural use of space for children’s and adult’s health and well-being. In a recent Ted Radio Hour talk, Dr. Stuart Brown, the founder of the National Institute for Play in California, came to the study of play after studying something much more somber: the lives of murderers. He found a common thread in their life stories: lack of play in childhood. Since then, he’s interviewed thousands of people to catalog their relationships with play, noting a strong correlation between playful activity and success. So let’s use those spaces Monday through Saturday for everybody’s mental health and development. It’s never too late to play. Surely Christ the great healer would approve!

Kurt Hill

I really don’t understand why some people are so upset about contemporary uses for these spaces. I mean, for heavens sake, the miniature golf was for kids! It was arranged in the Nave of the cathedral (not the Chancel). If in the Middle Ages it was okay to have vendors and farm animals in the Nave on occasion, what’s the big deal about crazy golf/miniature golf for kids once in a while? Or other creative use of the Nave like the helter skelter? Jeeez.

Mary Cushing

I love these initiatives. We don’t think often enough of introducing fun into church, but if we accept that Jesus was fully human, surely he would have enjoyed having fun. These initiatives also remind me of the legend of the “clown of God,” the inspiration for a children’s book by Tomie dePaola by the same name. The lead character is a juggler who uses his skills to amuse a statue of Mary and Jesus in a church. It’s a lovely tale.

William Moorhead

Oh my goodness. Would somebody like to explain to us who the “Christian Episcopal” folks are?

Jon White

They are a breakaway group founded in the early 80’s by the former bishop of Ft Worth, The Rt Rev A. Donald Davies, in opposition to BCP changes and women’s ordination

William Moorhead

I guess that explains why they don’t believe in having fun in cathedrals. Do they even have any fun cathedrals?

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