The Holiest Place on Earth: Cathedrals of Fun

Englands cathedrals find ways to entice visitors

While many families have been visiting Disneyland, the happiest place on earth, or one of other Disney theme parks this summer, others may be looking to loftier locations. Considering that attendance at many cathedrals in England have plummeted in recent years, they knew that they needed to make a few changes and so, the church just might become the next big amusement park.

At first, the idea of installing towers with slides, light shows and miniature golf courses, even for a limited time at these historical holy buildings seems sacrilegious. But on second thought, is it really any different than our local churches inviting kids to take candy from strangers during a “Truck or Treat” event in October or transforming a church’s sanctuary into a themed world for “Vacation Bible School?” The Reverend Canon Andy Bryant doesn’t think so. He resides at Norwich Cathedral which has been around since 1145.

“Seeing It Differently” (Photo: Norwich Cathedral)

“We have one of the greatest collections of medieval roof bosses anywhere in northern Europe. The trouble is they are so high up that most people never get a chance to really appreciate them,” he told CNN recently about his idea of putting up a giant tower with a slide inside the cathedral.

“And so was born the idea — could we get people up higher to these roof bosses and so appreciate that they are exquisite art as they are the most beautiful pieces of stone carving but also the story that’s captured within them, which is the story of the Bible.”

The amusement park ride, known as a helter skelter, has been put in place temporarily as part of the church’s “Seeing It Differently” program.

“Take a ride on our slide and enjoy a journey of discovery. A 50ft helter skelter is set to spring up in the Nave as part of the Seeing It Differently project which aims to give people the chance to experience the Cathedral in an entirely new way,” says the church’s website. Visitors “will be treated to unique views of the Cathedral and its famous medieval roof bosses before enjoying a helter skelter ride like no other!”

Other activities have been set up there including invitations to lie down on the floor and look up at the Cathedral’s ceiling, reading the Bible inside a “Bible Box” and be completely surrounded by the Word of God, a labyrinth and more. And don’t think that the church is getting rich off tourists. All events are free, except for the helter skelter which is £2 per person.

“Adventure Golf” (Photo: Rochester Cathedral)

If heights are not your thing, you might want to check out the bridge-themed Adventure Golf Course set up inside the Medieval Nave of Rochester Cathedral in Kent. The church states that the course was designed to encourage young people about the engineering behind bridges.

“For over 1,400 years, Rochester Cathedral has been a centre of learning for the community. By temporarily installing an educational adventure golf course we aim to continue that mission, giving people the opportunity to learn while they take part in a fun activity, in what for many might be a previously un-visited building,” says Revd. Rachel Phillps, Canon for Mission and Growth. “We hope that, while playing adventure golf, visitors will reflect on the bridges that need to be built in their own lives and in our world today.”

The 9-hole course features a different bridge for each hole including original Roman bridge at Rochester, and the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge at Dartford with more information posted.

“At first sight it’s quite shocking,” said Peter Scholey, 70, a retired headteacher reports Yahoo Sports. “But if you stop and think about it… it’s no different to how it was in the Middle Ages,” pointing out people back then would bring animals and hold markets in cathedrals.

“Why not? I think it’s really interesting,” his wife, Brigid Allen, added.

“SPACE, God, the Universe and Everything.” (Photo: Lichfield Cathedral)

And then there’s Lichfield Cathedral offering what is perhaps the most sophisticated option, an exhibition known as SPACE: God, the Universe and Everything, back for its third year. This walking journey within the Cathedral reveals the universe, galaxies, space, creation and light according to the website.

“The human instinct is to travel, explore and discover. More profoundly, Christianity steers all believers along a path throughout life. We have no permanent home on Earth; we are pilgrims (wanderers) and strangers until we are at home with God,” says the church on its website. “The cathedral floor will be one huge map of the moon’s surface and the spiritual/moral question will be contained in ‘one small step’ – what can each of us do for the betterment of the cosmos?”

The spectacle looks amazing and features sounds, music and moving images during the presentation taking up to an hour to fully experience the event.

Suddenly your Indiana Jones-themed VBS doesn’t sound so outlandish does it?

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