Cathedral visitor numbers rebound after pandemic

Cathedral visitor numbers rebound after pandemic
Apr 2023

Cathedral visitor numbers rebound after pandemic

Early figures for 2023 have also shown a higher than usual number of visitors to the cathedral since the launch of its Divine Beauty project to conserve its four famous stained-glass windows designed by Pre-Raphaelite artists Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris, pictured.(Photo: Getty/iStock)

Visitor numbers are returning to pre-pandemic levels across English cathedrals, according to latest figures.

The Association of English Cathedrals (AEC) said that many recorded a more than 100 per cent increase on 2021 figures, when the pandemic was still causing disruption.

Most welcomed at least double the number of visitors during 2022, the AEC said, adding that the figures "paint a picture of cautious optimism".

The AEC gathered data from 24 Church of England cathedrals and Westminster Abbey.

Overall visitor numbers rose from 2.9 million in 2021 to 5.7 million last year - a growth of 197 per cent.

The Very Rev Jo Kelly-Moore, Dean of St Albans and chair of the AEC, said: "We celebrate the significant increase in visitor numbers to our English cathedrals and these statistics confirm what our cathedrals' staff and volunteers have been observing on a daily basis over the last year.

"While this is evidence of the opening up of travel and visiting on a national and global scale again, we know from feedback and engagement that this increase also confirms the vital role of the cathedrals in our land as places of welcome for all people, in which to experience wonder, explore meaning and to find peace and hope in the challenges of our lives and of our world."

Cathedrals were buoyed by strong turnouts for the Platinum Jubilee, the mourning period for the late Queen Elizabeth II, and the proclamation of King Charles III.

Talks, tours, art exhibitions and light shows attracted further visitors, and cathedrals were helped by retaining a "mixed ecology" of online and in person worship and events, the AEC said.

Birmingham Cathedral welcomed over 10,000 visitors through its doors during the Commonwealth Games hosted by the city last summer, while more than 20,000 came to pay their respects after the passing of the Queen.

Early figures for 2023 show a higher than usual number of visitors to the cathedral since the launch of its Divine Beauty project to conserve its four famous stained-glass windows designed by Pre-Raphaelite artists Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris. The windows have attracted 20 per cent more visitors than in the same period last year.

Sheffield Cathedral saw a rise in both people attending services and general visitor numbers during 2022. Last year, Sheffield was a host city for the 2022 Women's European Championships but the cathedral also hosted two popular events, a 'Peace Doves' art installation by Peter Walker's and Sheffield BID's Bricktropolis display of Lego dinosaurs.

St Edmundsbury Cathedral's 2022 Christmas Fayre attracted 12,000 visitors. Others came to see Jacqui Parkinson's textile exhibition 'Threads through Creation' in August, and visited during the mourning period for the Queen.

Visitors to Rochester Cathedral reached a record high last year, with 213,000 visitors, an increase of 446 per cent on the previous year.

In London, the return to health has also been impressive, with St Paul's Cathedral recording a 300 per cent increase in visitor numbers, and Westminster Abbey 220 per cent.

Some three million people visited Westminster Abbey in 2021, rising to 6.8 million in 2022.

The Very Rev Andrew Tremlett, Dean of St Paul's Cathedral, said: "After two years of lower visitor numbers, in 2022 we welcomed far more visitors than we had anticipated. This shows the enduring attraction of St Paul's Cathedral, both as a vibrant place of worship and a national icon.

"I am so grateful to all those who visit and our volunteers and staff who offer them such a warm welcome. Last year, with the Platinum Jubilee Service of Thanksgiving in June, and then our services of Prayer and Reflection following the death of HM Queen Elizabeth in September, St Paul's offered a place for people to mark moments of national importance, just as it has done for centuries.

"I am sure visitor numbers will continue to grow this year as we celebrate some important milestones for the cathedral. This month we will be launching a new exhibition to mark the 300th anniversary of the death of Sir Christopher Wren, who built the cathedral. And, in May, we look forward to celebrating the Coronation of His Majesty King Charles III, with a special Evensong for the City of London."