Living Cathedrals

Added about 2 weeks ago by Stephen Platten

GUEST BLOG: Do cathedrals still matter in the twenty-first century? Bishop Stephen Platten shares why they are still popular, but also the challenges they face.

Stephen is the editor of Holy Ground, a new book which was cited extensively in the draft Church of England report on cathedral governance published in January 2018.

Just weeks ago, St.Paul’s Cathedral was full to overflowing for the moving and powerful service for residents and bereaved of Grenfell Tower. Last year Southwark Cathedral hosted a service following the London bombing that took place just next door to the cathedral gates. Canterbury is the focus for the entire Anglican Communion with new bishops are training there even now. Durham, Manchester, Norwich, Lincoln, Exeter, Coventry... cathedrals are so often the focus of community life for their region and they are continuing to grow. But this is not without its challenges, both financial problems and issues about governance have reappeared.

Last month, the draft report of the Cathedrals Working Group was published, which included new proposals for the governance of cathedrals. How should Cathedrals respond? How should the Church of England respond? How can we understand better the amazing resources and the serious challenges within the world of cathedrals? What better starting point than Holy Ground? Cited extensively in the report, Holy Ground slices through cathedrals in ten different ways, including buildings, liturgy, theology, prophecy and governance. It is written by those with extensive experience and knowledge, who are able to cast a critical eye.

These authors include Nicholas Henshall on the prophetic role of cathedrals in urban settings, Simon Oliver on theology and the place of cathedrals in the Church, and Peter Atkinson on prayer and worship – all of which are quoted or mentioned in the new report. In fact, Holy Ground is quoted on more occasions than any other publication, including the Cathedrals Measure and other “official” documents. It picks up on key issues such as funding and how the state can and ought to assist. Lord Bourne’s recent report lauds the contribution of cathedrals but hints at no new government assistance. Many people are unaware that English cathedrals receive less government funding than in any other country in Europe.

Cathedrals play a significant role in music and the arts too. Have you ever thought about where our professional musicians are trained? Many received their first “baptism” into the musical world through cathedral choirs, and organ scholarships are a key element in training the next generation of maestros at the keyboard. Many of our opera stars, instrumentalists and conductors started their virtuoso lives in the cathedral choral tradition. Richard Shephard, one of our most distinguished choral composers focuses on music in his contribution to Holy Ground. A whole range of arts are nurtured in cathedrals including painting, sculpture, installations, stone reliefs, “imagination as we build anew”, and contemporary stained glass. The remarkable Crucible exhibition of sculpture in Gloucester a few years ago is just one case in point. The Jerusalem Trust commissioned new sculpture and art in Truro, Wells and Liverpool. Celia Kilner's splendid new labyrinth and Celtic cross at Wakefield are other stunning examples. Much of this is explored by Christopher Irvine in his chapter on the arts.

Holy Ground covers a range of other topics too. Jennie Page, formerly Director of English Heritage, and a member of the recent working party writes illuminatingly on governance and the work of the Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England. David Hoyle tackles the key question addressed by the new report 'What is the point of cathedrals?' by exploring whether they are just heritage objects.

So, if you’re interested in the extraordinary contribution of English cathedrals to the spirit and soul of our nation, Holy Ground really is the authoritative source. Get your copy now.

Photo: the font at Salisbury Cathedral (© R. Hilton).

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