THE English Tourist Board has produced a fascinating report on the country's cathedrals. True to their brief, they do not daily with the old idea, Terribilis est locus isle. They treat them as national monuments even more valuable as tourist bait than our Stately Homes.
The basic trouble is that they cost a great deal to maintain. The medieval cathedrals have grown old and the new ones tended to use the wrong stone and far too many people shuffle through them. Yet no State and no religion looks after monuments with a more exquisite and scholarly care than does the Church of England.
But the cathedrals are costly to maintain, and ways are being sought to make the tourists pay. Some form of payment at the door is becoming the usual solution.
Westminster Abbey has more than three million visitors a year. St Paul's gets nearly as many. The first seems sometimes as crowded as an underground platform in the rush-hour and the second is loud with the voices of guides and the mating cries of American students.
It sounds like the concourse at Waterloo, and you would not be much surprised to hear a loudspeaker announcing that the next train from the Chapel of the Holy Angels was going to Heaven.
In Cathedrals, people tread chewing gum into the floor, light cigarettes, drip ice cream, discard flash bulbs, set light to embroidery, knock bits off monuments, gouge out mosaics with knives, cover lawns with rubbish and smoke pot in the grateful seclusion of side chapels.
At Bath Abbey things got better when people had to pay. A local report says: "For some inexplicable reason, from the very first day our
became a quieter, more peaceable place.
"Our boxes were not so frequently prised open. We have had no one attempting to start a fire with a pile of hassocks in a corner. Nobody has recently used the inside of the Abbey as a gentlemen's lavatory. And we rather hope that our bookstall losses will amount to less than the usual £700 to £1,000."
Charges are not made for attendance at services, though some tourists resent their pleasures being interrupted by worship. There is also some mention of Catholic
cathedrals. Clearly these cannot compete with the big league, but they too need money.
At Arundel, French teenagers have been found eating and laughing and talking in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. And even Arundel, a learned Victorian building, has had to be restored.
The numbers visiting Liverpool Catholic Cathedral have dwindled since its early publicity. But then it is a very functional building, and if you came merely to look, there is nothing much except the desire to pray to make you linger.