'With a heavy heart,' the nation's cathedrals shutter over coronavirus

The interior of Salisbury Cathedral(Photo: Unsplash/Stephanie LeBlanc)

Cathedral buildings are closing their doors along with other places of worship across the country after sweeping new restrictions on movement were announced by the Government on Monday evening. 

The new social distancing measures mean that church buildings can no longer stay open. 

The Association of English Cathedrals (AEC) said it was "with a heavy heart" that they were having to close cathedral doors.

When the first wave of restrictions came into effect last week, Church leaders had spoken of their hope for churches to be places of solace even if public worship was suspended. 

But now, with the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK continuing to rise, gatherings of more than two people have been banned, meaning that weddings and baptisms are no longer possible, although funerals with only a very limited number of people can still go ahead. 

Places of worship are closing their doors along with shops selling non-essential items, hairdressers, nail bars, libraries and playgrounds.

Restrictions on movement mean that people can only leave home to exercise, buy essentials, take care of a vulnerable relative, or go to work only if it is absolutely necessary and they cannot work from home. 

In a statement, the AEC said that even if the cathedral buildings are closed, they will still be "ever present" in communities. 

"It is with a heavy heart that we close our cathedrals during this crisis as a necessary contribution to keeping all of us healthy and safe," said the Very Rev Adrian Dorber, Dean of Lichfield and Chair of the AEC.

"This move goes against our established pattern of being open and available for everyone. It is this openness and accessibility that demonstrates the openness and generosity of God's welcome and love for all people.

"Yet, when human touch and closeness have become risky and even toxic, it doesn't mean that God is far away, but that the Church has to find new, creative, and imaginative ways of being available, enabling prayer and worship, and listening carefully to everyone's needs and questions.

"Cathedrals and churches will be keeping their daily patterns of prayer going. They will be at the heart of local initiatives to serve and meet need. They stand, as they always have done, as silent, but permanent signs of God's presence alongside us.

"We'll be using every means to stay in touch with our communities and for people to feel they can access these places of assurance, delight and inspiration."

One cathedral to have responded to the challenge of being creative is Rochester Cathedral, which has been lighting its spire up blue every night since last week as a "sign of constant prayers for those anxious, suffering and bereaved" as a result of the pandemic. 

Cathedral Dean Dr Philip Hesketh said: "These are difficult and challenging times."

He added: "Be assured of our prayers at the cathedral at this challenging time."