jQuery Slider

You are here

Norwich Cathedral accused of 'treating God like a tourist attraction' after installing helter skelter

Norwich Cathedral accused of 'treating God like a tourist attraction' after installing helter skelter
Guests are able to climb the funfair ride and have the chance to see centuries-old architectural features and roof bosses.

By Gabriella Swerling, social and religious affairs editor
August 8, 2019

They may be renowned for their architectural majesty, historic significance and - at a push - their niche gift shop offerings.

Yet in recent years the trend for opening up cathedrals to the public by advertising novelty attractions - with everything from an installation of the moon to hosting skate festivals - has sparked furious debate.

Now Norwich Cathedral is the latest religious building to be accused of "treating God like a tourist attraction", after it installed a 55-ft helter skelter in its nave.

Reverend Canon Andy Bryant, the Cathedral's Canon for Mission and Pastoral Care, said the idea came to him when he was visiting the Sistine Chapel in Rome, Italy.

"The fun comes in the shape of a helter skelter," he said. "The serious comes in creating opportunities for reflective, God-shaped conversations. It is playful in its intent but also profoundly missional.

"It is the Cathedral doing what it has always done -- encouraging conversations about God. By its sheer size and grandeur it speaks of the things of God; it points beyond itself. Its sheer presence helps to keep the rumour of God alive and plays its part in passing on the story of Salvation."

For just £2 a ride, visitors will be able to enjoy a closer look at the medieval roof bosses or carvings which depict Biblical stories from the 40ft viewing platform.

The ride is part of the Cathedral's 'Seeing It Differently' campaign, which was devised by Rev Bryant, with the aim of giving people the opportunity to experience the building "in an entirely new way and open up conversations about faith".

However the Right Reverend Dr Gavin Ashenden, former chaplain to the Queen, has criticised the Cathedral for making a "mockery" of God.

"Instead of allowing a Cathedral to act as a bridge between people and God's presence, instead it obscures it by offering to entertain and divert people," he told The Telegraph.

"There's a sliding scale between mockery and blasphemy. It's a mockery because it's treating God like a tourist attraction, instead of as the creator of the universe who is going to hold us accountable for our ethical failures.

"It becomes blasphemy at the point where the cathedrals represent a long line of belief - much of which is martyred belief - people have paid with their lives to believe in Christ and cathedral is corporeal embodiment of Christ."

"To turn this into entertainment," he added, "is blasphemous to Christ and the people who died for Christ. It suggests cathedrals have lost their responsibility to Christ because they are preoccupied with the demands of society."

The ride has also drawn criticism from Christians and humanists alike. One Twitter user wrote: "Yeah, I'm seeing it as desecration and mockery (and I'm not even Christian)." Another added: "We need to bring back the Inquisition to England."

Some took it even more seriously, with one user tweeting the ominous message: "One day, God will punish you for this."

The ride is the latest 'stunt' to grace holy buildings. Last month Rochester Cathedral opened a crazy golf course in its nave, allowing visitors to putt their way round the 11th-century building. In the past visitors have also skated in the aisles at Gloucester and gazed at the moon in Liverpool

Many Cathedrals face financial struggles however congregations have risen by about 10 per cent in a decade, with a total weekly attendance of 37,000 people.

The Archbishop of Canterbury even told a cathedrals conference last year: "The first thing I want is for people not to be bored. I want them to have fun ... If you can't have fun in a cathedral, you don't know what fun is."

Diarmaid MacCulloch, professor of the history of the church at the University of Oxford, has also taken a more lighthearted view of the ride.

"There's mini golf in Rochester Cathedral now," he said. "I took a relaxed view of it. The helter skelter is in the west of the nave - the space within medieval cathedrals which you might not call the holiest part of the building. It was often the area used for leisure purposes in the Middle Ages, so I don't really see this as a desecration, although I can imagine the sort of people who would."

Professor MacCulloch added that some would think the ride a "trendy", "dangerous" or "undignified" installation erected in a bid to entice people through the doors of religious buildings as society becomes increasingly secularised.

However he added: "But Cathedrals don't have any problem at all getting people in through the doors, so this shouldn't be seen as a desperate attempt to get people in the building.

"I'm not sure I would have done it," he said, "but its worth seeing what it does."

The funfair ride has a viewing platform at 40ft which will allow the riders have a unique experience when embracing the cathedral's 69ft-high roof. It costs £2 per ride, with funds covering the cost of hire from a funfair company and any surplus going into cathedral initiatives.

The Cathedral has eschewed accusations that the helter skelter is a sign of being "desperate" to entice visitors through its doors, but rather a "sign of our confidence [that] we know exactly what a cathedral is for".

Adrian Dorber, chair of the Association of English Cathedrals, said that "creative innovation is part of our mission".

"There is a cathedral shaped space out there and we hope we are occupying it in bold, fresh and exciting ways that welcome people, that challenge, that engage with our communities and reach new audiences and that say something about cathedrals being a place for all, while ensuring our buildings will be there for our future generations."

Get a bi-weekly summary of Anglican news from around the world.
comments powered by Disqus
Trinity School for Ministry
Go To Top