Sacred Space: Common Ground sums up the challenge and opportunity that cathedrals face; said Dame Fiona Reynolds.
Speaking to the first national cathedrals conference on the holiness and necessity of beauty, Dame Fiona asked:
“How can we maintain the spiritual purpose of the cathedrals while making them relevant to people of all faiths and none.”
The former Director General of the National Trust who now chairs the Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England, explained it was her childhood tours of England’s great houses and cathedrals that shaped her whole life and gave her an “unashamed reverence for beauty – a word we do not use often enough.”
Dame Fiona, said her book The Fight for Beauty – was a response to that reverence: an attempt for her to explain why beauty matters.
“It’s a beauty that shapes respect for our surroundings and people, against the rising tide of materialism. It’s why we need today to continue to fight for beauty when economics seems to take more precedence in public life.
“Cathedrals occupy a space where beauty, contemplation, worship and reflection are valued in their own right.
“Yet they are not in bubbles isolated from the mainstream – they exist precisely to have meaning for those communities outside. For pilgrimage, worship, curiosity; learning. …..A place where people get their own sense of meaning.
“The mission of cathedrals is about reverence and relevance; moving with the times as well as being timeless – another sacred responsibility,” she added.
“Cathedrals are still in use for original business – that continuity of use is at the core of cathedral meaning and purpose today…but also challenging in terms of communication; things like disabled access and the demands of visitors and other users today,” she added.
Dame Fiona said that while cathedrals were in better shape than they had been for decades, the threat was still there – especially money needed for urgent repairs and larger grant opportunities. She promised to press ahead with dialogues with the Government and the Heritage Lottery Fund
“Cathedrals need repairs and should not have to build a visitor centre to get the repairs done,” she said.
She reminded the conference that the Cathedrals Projects Support Panel – a two year project by the Association of English Cathedrals with funding from All Churches Trust – was there to give cathedrals access to a range of experts.
Dame Fiona Reynolds was speaking to the delegates on the third day of the first national cathedrals conference in St Ann’s Church, Manchester