Religion, tourism and my conscience

I’m not especially religious, but step foot inside a cathedral and I get all confused.

I’m not sure what to think or how to behave. There’s an entrance desk, visitor information and a gift shop, guided tours and tea rooms. Say it like that and it almost sounds like spiritual Disney.

I totally understand why cathedrals are successful tourist attractions. There’s history and heritage, mystery and culture, and of course the undeniable evidence of the sheer brilliance of human endeavour, achievement and sacrifice. From the spectacular engineering and building works, to the magnificent stained glass windows, tombs and war memorials, cathedrals are monumental testimonies to the very best of men.

Winchester Cathedral

Winchester Cathedral – ambitious architecture and design

And then, of course, there’s God.

My problem is that I’m just never sure whether God is happy for me to walk around with my camera and get excited by the artwork, the brickwork and the golden decor. Even the doors. I love the doors. Big, red, heavy and imposing.

Winchester Cathedral Big Red Doors

Statement doors at Winchester Cathedral

That’s not to say I don’t appreciate the stillness and the sense of  ‘something’ spiritual, it’s just I’m never sure whether it’s totally respectful to be overawed by the blatant human-ness of it all. I keep waiting for God to catch me out and unceremoniously eject me through those big red doors.

Still, they’re selling entrance tickets, so I guess it’s ok to be a tourist in a place of worship.

Winchester Cathedral is a great example of how religion and tourism get along. When 300,000 visitors a year attend a venue, you know something’s working.

Winchester Cathedral Welcome

Winchester Cathedral Welcome

Jane Austen is buried at Winchester Cathedral and to mark the bicentenary of her heyday there’s a special exhibition, whilst the Antony Gormley sculpture, Sound II stands alone in the crypt – it’s a treat if you get to see it whilst the crypt is flooded.

Antony Gormley Sound II

Antony Gormley Sound II at Winchester Cathedral


4 responses to “Religion, tourism and my conscience

  1. Jo, I totally agree. I too am in awe of churches and Cathedrals – Winchester being among those that I have been fortunate enough to visit. But, as a complete non-believer, I always feel a pang of guilt, a sense of discomfort and disrespect when I enter these magnificent buildings. I stop for a moment or so and ask myself ‘should I be here’, ‘am I allowed here’, am I lessening the import of this great place for those who believe?’

    I hope not, as I would like to think that all of the wondrous architecture, relics and artefacts are there for all mankind to enjoy . . .

  2. Thank you for your comments. I’ve just read your blog ‘lost in the details’. I have a (virtually!) identical photo of the Colosseum.

  3. Candid and straightforward! And I love your images. Plus I love red doors too! I’m sure God is happy to see us in his house no matter what we are thinking! . 🙂 Thanks for posting!

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