England's cathedrals: 'heritage success story of our era'

England's cathedrals are the country's largest, most historic and most complex buildings yet they are generally in good repair and continuing to add to their glories by commissioning new works from fonts to fire doors and from choir schools to cafés, according to a new survey from English Heritage. 

The English Heritage Cathedrals Fabric Condition Survey 2009 published today shows that cathedrals have spent more than £250 million on repairs since 1991 and most critical work has  now been been done. 

Over the next 10 years cathedrals need to spend some £100 million on mainly routine repairs,  but relatively few of these are urgent, and  more than £75 million of new developments  are planned.

Only six cathedrals still need to carry out major repair programmes in the next 10 years: Canterbury - £16m, York - £8m, Lincoln - £13m or more, Salisbury - £15m, Chichester - £10m, Winchester - £4m. This leaves the other 55 cathedrals needing to spend an average of less than £1m each over the next 10 years

Dr Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage, said: "Our Fabric Survey shows that cathedral bodies are taking excellent care of the heritage in their keeping. Our new publication shows what can be achieved with the aid of English Heritage advice and by individual cathedrals working with their Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches' governing bodies. Above all it shows that cathedrals continue to evolve, adding to their glories with a thriving tradition of commissioning the highest standards of new architecture, craftsmanship and design.

"Our first fabric survey in 1991 revealed that many cathedrals were in a dire state. Today, having spent £250 million, they are in much better shape though constant vigilance is still required if these national treasures are not to slip again into decline. English Heritage, recently in partnership with the Wolfson Foundation, has given £52 million and we remain as committed as ever. As a symbol of that commitment, I am delighted to announce today an English Heritage grant of £250,000 towards urgent work at Lincoln."

A new English Heritage publication, Creativity and Care: New Works in English Cathedrals, was launched yesterday in association with the Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England, CoE, and the Roman Catholic Church's Patrimony Committee. It features new works such as mosaics at Westminster Cathedral, the education and music resource centre at Wells, Chester's song school, re-ordering and new confessionals at Leeds, a glaziers' studio at York Minster and disabled access to the shrine at St Alban's.

The report, which has a preface by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of Westminster, explores the way in which cathedrals are succeeding in remaining first and foremost places of Christian worship while also fulfilling roles as cultural centres and tourist attractions. Some of the works result from changes to liturgical practice - the way services are performed - and what today's worshippers want as a focus for their spirituality. The revivifying of Hereford's shrines to its local saints is one example. Some new works result from modern safety and accessibility requirements.

The Rt Hon Frank Field MP, Chairman of the Cathedrals Fabric Commission at the Church of England, said: "Roman Catholic and Anglican cathedral authorities alike are not only custodians of past splendours: they can also be wise and willing midwives to future glories. We hope Creativity and Care will encourage cathedral bodies to think in the boldest terms about their building's future, rather than scale down their ambitions to what they think will be approved."

The publication, Care and Creativity, a gallery of images of new works, information on the Cathedrals Fabric Survey and how to apply for a grant, are all available on:  www.english-heritage.org.uk/cathedrals2009. Free hard copies of Care and Creativity can be ordered from English Heritage Customer Services on 0870 333 1181 customers@english-heritage.org.uk


Picture: Andrew Pingstone

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