Sunday, August 7, 2011

Sunday Shrine Series #5: Pay to Pray?

William Oddie recently had a column in The Catholic Herald with the provocative title: "If anybody tries to make you pay to enter an Anglican cathedral (built by the Catholic Church) refuse and enter anyway"! The subtitle mollifies a little: "You should, of course, make a voluntary contribution to its maintenance; but it’s your decision. They have no right to stop you".

He writes about his son wanting to visit York Minster and being told he had to pay to enter and comments:

The fact is that the Minster authorities have no moral right whatever to prevent anyone freely entering this building. I know that money has to be raised for its maintenance. Nevertheless, this is the house of God: and to charge money for entrance to it is tantamount to simony, one definition of which is “trafficking for money in spiritual things”. I looked up their website to see what possible excuse they had for raising money in this disgustingly secular fashion, like charging for a go on the London Eye or the big dipper. . . .

We are told that “Charges are made for those visiting for sightseeing” but that “No charges are made for those who wish to enter the Minster to pray or light a candle: please ask a member of staff on arrival”. But nothing was said to my son by any member of staff on his arrival, about entering “to pray or light a candle”: he was just told he had to pay or be turned away. And what exactly is the mission of these people? “Through all the activities of York Minster,” they gush, “runs our belief that God wants to show the world his love”: oh yeah? By charging them £9 a head to enter His house? And what exactly is this rigid distinction between those who want “to pray or light a candle” and those “visiting for sightseeing”? If sightseers find themselves praying (it’s the kind of effect that a building like this can have; it certainly did on me) or lighting a candle, can they ask for their money back?

I have had this problem before, getting into Anglican cathedrals built by the Catholic Church and purloined at the Reformation. They have no right to stop you (or anyone else) entering: simply refuse politely and go in. I know that buildings like this need maintaining. But I would almost certainly pay more than the entrance fee as a voluntary contribution, and I usually do. A notice suggesting a voluntary contribution, even specifying a recommended sum and with a desk there to collect the money (they could hand out a free guide or something to encourage people to give) would avoid this appalling and deeply secular tourist entrance fee.

Nobody who enters a holy place should be regarded as a tourist, simply there as a source of revenue: each one of them has an immortal soul, and whether they know it or not they are all in search of God. They are more likely, much more likely, to find Him if they are allowed freely to enter His house.

We encountered these charges at Westminster Abbey and Canterbury Cathedral, and it is wrong, I think, especially when many of the museums, like the British Museum and the British Library ASK for contributions. Even the Met in New York suggests their $20.00 entrance fee--I paid only $10.00 last time I was there, because, as the Met notes, the full price includes The Cloisters, and I wasn't going there. The Westminster Abbey entrance fee was particularly irritating, because there was a lot of scaffolding inside and we couldn't even visit the tomb of St. Edward the Confessor!

The top photo is from wikipedia's article on York Minster; the second illustration is, course, Giotto's depiction of Jesus driving the money changers from the Temple.

1 comment:

  1. I was somewhat dismayed to see a charge of £9.00 each when my wife and I visited York in April. We returned later when people were arriving for Evensong in a side chapel. This enabled us to avoid any unpleasantness.