Visitor Numbers on the Rise

13th April 2023

Visitor numbers at our cathedrals are showing a strong return towards pre-pandemic days with many recording more than a 100 per cent increase on 2021 figures.

And they’re back: Visitor numbers on the rise in our cathedrals.

The country was still facing disruption from the coronavirus pandemic in 2021 and this was reflected in the slow return of visitors and worshippers, but 2022 has seen most cathedrals welcome double the number of visitors, while in London, St Paul’s Cathedral recorded an increase of 300 per cent and Westminster Abbey has enjoyed a 220 per cent increase in visitors.

Events including the Platinum Jubilee, the mourning period for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, and the proclamation for the new king attracted huge numbers of visitors, as did talks, tours, art exhibitions and light shows as our cathedrals began to reintroduce new programmes of events alongside services and many retained the mixed ecology of online and in person worship and events.

Figures collected by the Association of English Cathedrals (AEC) from 24 Church of England cathedrals and Westminster Abbey paint a picture of cautious optimism with an increase in visitor numbers across cathedrals rising from 2.9m in 2021 to 5.7m in 2022 – a growth of 197%. Westminster Abbey alone welcomed 3m total visitors in 2021 and 6.8m visitors in 2022.

The Very Revd Jo Kelly-Moore, Dean of St Albans and chair of the AEC, said:

“We celebrate the significant increase in visitor numbers to our English Cathedrals and these statistics confirm what our cathedrals’ staff and volunteers have been observing on a daily basis over the last year.

“While this is evidence of the opening up of travel and visiting on a national and global scale again, we know from feedback and engagement that this increase also confirms the vital role of the Cathedrals in our land as places of welcome for all people, in which to experience wonder, explore meaning and to find peace and hope in the challenges of our lives and of our world.

In 2022 Rochester Cathedral recorded the highest number of visitors since it began compiling records despite opening times in the first quarter of the year still being disrupted by Covid with over 213,000 visitors – an increase of 446 per cent.

Rochester points to two major events that contributed to the hike; Luke Jerram’s art installation Gaia, representing planet Earth, which went on display during May, and the world’s longest Lego bridge which it hosted in the nave during August.

Birmingham Cathedral saw more than 10,000 visitors during the course of the Commonwealth Games last year and over 20,000 came to pay their respects during the mourning period for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.

Early figures for 2023 have shown a higher than usual number of visitors to the Cathedral’s Divine Beauty project – to conserve the Cathedral’s four famous stained-glass windows designed by Pre-Raphaelite artists Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris. The windows have attracted a steady 20 per cent more visitors than the same period last year.

Early visitor figures for 2023 in Chichester too are showing an increase of 25 per cent more visitors to the Cathedral and staff there point to its programme of exhibitions and events organised around their artist in residence, Anne Grebby, whose residency has just finished, and, who has painted a triptych, depicting the Baptism of Christ, currently on display in the Chapel of St John the Baptist until the end of April.

In Gloucester, overall visitor numbers in 2022 were up 63 per cent on 2021 while, in the first quarter of this year, Gloucester has already seen an increase of 13 per cent on the same period last year.

Newcastle Cathedral welcomed 218,839 visitors during 2022 in comparison to 111,672 during 2021. This is down to a new offer of talks, tours and exhibitions in the newly refurbished cathedral which finally re-opened in late 2020.

Sheffield Cathedral noted an increase in the number of people attending services too during 2022 as well as an increase in its visitor numbers. Sheffield was a host city for the 2022 Women’s European Championships which attracted new audiences. They also hosted artist Peter Walker’s Peace Doves and Sheffield BID’s Bricktopolis, both of which proved very popular.

St Edmundsbury Cathedral welcomed 12,000 visitors to its Christmas Fayre in 2022 and other highlights for them included Jacqui Parkinson’s textile exhibition ‘Threads through Creation’ in August and the mourning period for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth during September.

But the biggest hike has been witnessed by cathedrals in London, including Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s.

The Very Revd Andrew Tremlett, Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, said:
“After two years of lower visitor numbers, in 2022 we welcomed far more visitors than we had anticipated. This shows the enduring attraction of St Paul’s Cathedral, both as a vibrant place of worship and a national icon.

“I am so grateful to all those who visit and our volunteers and staff who offer them such a warm welcome. Last year, with the Platinum Jubilee Service of Thanksgiving in June, and then our services of Prayer and Reflection following the death of HM the Queen in September, St Paul’s offered a place for people to mark moments of national importance, just as it has done for centuries.

“I am sure visitor numbers will continue to grow this year as we celebrate some important milestones for the cathedral. This month we will be launching a new exhibition to mark the 300th anniversary of the death of Sir Christopher Wren, who built the cathedral. And, in May, we look forward to celebrating the Coronation of His Majesty King Charles III, with a special Evensong for the City of London.”