by Peter Stanford TWO Catholic cathedrals were damaged as Thursday's freak hurricane swept across southern England, and the bill for clearing up the mess in one diocese alone was estimated to be "running into hundreds of thousands of pounds".
At Portsmouth Cathedral, celebrating the centenary of its consecration this year, a heavy stone crucifix was dislodged by the wind which was gusting at over 100 mph, and fell onto the roof of the southern transept, dislodging tiles and damaging the parapet. Although a tarpaulin has been erected, there are fears that water will leak through the exposed areas of the roof and damage the organ which lies directly beneath.
Arundel Cathedral in the neighbouring diocese of Arundel and Brighton was badly hit by the winds because of its exposed position on a hillside. Slates and stone-work came crashing down.
All along the south coast and up into Suffolk and Norfolk in East Anglia diocese, parish priests had similar tales to tell of smashed slates, destroyed doors, tumbling tiles and uprooted trees.
The Chancellor of the diocese of Arundel and Brighton, Mgr John Hull, told the Catholic Herald that every parish had been sent an insurance claim form. He put the damage in his area alone at "running into hundreds of thousands of pounds."
All property owned by Catholic dioceses in England, Wales and Scotland is insured with the church's own fund, the Catholic Mutual, based in Guernsey in the Channel Islands. Claims will be processed through the Catholic National Services' Office in Bristol, and a spokesman there noted that there had been a rush of forms since the weekend.
Many religious orders also insure their property with the Catholic Mutual, although in the case of voluntary-aided Catholic schools, the burdens of insurance are shared with the local education authority. No final figure will be reached for several weeks yet until assessors have visited stricken sites.
Fr Martin Breen of St Charles' in East Worthing told the Catholic Herald how he was awoken at 2 am on Friday morning by the sound of tiles from the church roof crashing down on his presbytery. After 90 minutes of the barrage, the church roof was left exposed, and it was only with the help of tarpaulins and buckets to catch the drips that it has remained in use.
At St Martin's on Jersey, half the roof of the church of Our Lady of the Annunciation which stands on one of the highest spots on the Channel island, was wrecked, parish priest, Fr Michael Ryan reported. Slates, rafters and plaster were lifted clean off, as the gales took their toll on the recently repaired roof.
At Copnor Bridge near Portsmouth, the church of St Joseph was surrounded by scaffolding in the aftermath of the storm as builders struggled to repair large areas of damage on the roof. Fr Richard Hind, dean of the Isle of Wight, said that most of the badly-hit island's Catholic churches had suffered remarkably little harm. The convent school at Ryde had seen its science block roof lifted clean off and deposited on neighbouring houses, but at Shanklin where the famous peir was washed away, the Sacred Heart church lost only two side doors.
Fr Hind put the relatively slight damage down to the sheltered position of the island's churches. "They tend to be tucked away between other buildings and do not enjoy spacious grounds".
Catholic schools on the south coast were closed at the start of this week as the mopping up operation continued. Some will remain closed until after half term. The chapel at the Cardinal Newman School in Brighton was damaged by a falling tree, while a hutted classroom at the Cottesmore Catholic primary in the same town was destroyed.
Mgr John Hull saw an ecumenical aspect to the storms, however. At his own church of St Thomas More in Patcham, the fence of the neighbouring Church of England building was smashed into the wall of the Catholic Church, bringing the two down together.
The destruction of so many trees had "changed the skyline of Brighton forever", he said.
In the southern dioceses of Southwark, Brentwood and East Anglia, finance officers reported a deluge of claims for broken windows, missing slates, and even a twisted weathervane. No estimates of cost were yet available.
The floods that followed the storm in mid-Wales have cut off the town of Carmarthen. However, vicar-general for Menevia diocese, Mgr Bottrill said that although all telephone links with the stricken town had been severed, he was confident that the Catholic Church of St Mary would be safe from rising waters because of its exposed position on a hillside near the town.