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An artist's rendition of the Norwich Cathedral's helter skelter. Credit: Annette Hudson / Paul Hurst / Irvin Leisure / Norwich Cathedral.

Fairground Ride in 900-Year-Old Norwich Cathedral is Not Leaving Everyone Thrilled


A 55ft high fairground helter-skelter has been installed in Norwich Cathedral’s nave to give visitors a better view of its ornate ceiling, but not everyone is delighted with this controversial ‘fun’ feature.

Construction works at Norwich Cathedral, in the city of Norwich, England, began in 1096 AD and this flint and mortar religious powerhouse was finished with a creamy Caen limestone facia. Dedicated to the ‘Holy and Undivided Trinity’, the building was completed in 1145 AD with its famous Norman tower still standing today.

Norwich Cathedral, Norwich, England. Credit: gb27photo / Adobe Stock

Norwich Cathedral, Norwich, England. Credit: gb27photo / Adobe Stock

After almost a thousand years of hosting deep monastic research, political wrangling and socio-spiritual affairs, the ‘Undivided Trinity’ had been figuratively smashed as the rebel reverend Canon Andy Bryant installed a helter-skelter. Claiming that he had been inspired by Rome’s Sistine Chapel an article in Cambridgeshire Live quotes the rev saying “I had the slightly risky thought of 'I know this is amazing, but actually the ceiling at Norwich Cathedral is every bit as wonderful’”.

Aiming to get folk closer to the cathedral’s ceiling to see the magnificent stone features up close, the helter-skelter is 12 meters (40ft) high and enables riders to get much closer to the cathedral's 69ft-high roof.

Does The ‘Ride’ Cure Or Cause Social Divides?

Rev Bryant said “We all are always looking to broaden the appeal of our cathedrals because some people can feel that cathedrals are slightly exclusive, they're for a particular type of person” and he admits that he hoped it would attract more visitors. He didn’t however make it clear ‘who’ exactly that “particular type” of person was that needs diluting with new ‘fun’ seekers.

This comes only a week after the BBC reported on men of the cloth at Rochester Cathedral in Kent installing a nine-hole crazy golf course in its nave, including miniature versions of the Roman bridge at Rochester and the Queen Elizabeth II bridge at Dartford. Andrew Freeman, from the Cathedral trust told the BBC: “The idea behind the course is to try and encourage young people and families to come into such a beautiful place to learn about the structures of different bridges” and he added, “both emotional and physical bridges.”

Fairground’s In Churches Bring Opponents

Naturally, opponents to golf courses and fairground rides being built within holy buildings are lining up, like for example, the Right Reverend Dr Gavin Ashenden, Bishop of the Anglican Episcopal Church, who told the BBC, “It's a really serious mistake, perhaps born of desperation.” The Bishop added, “The idea that people are so trivial that they can be almost tricked into a search for God by entertaining them with a golf course is a serious-category error.”

One visitor, Greetja Boedeltja from the Netherlands, told reporters at the BBC that it was a “shame” the helter-skelter was in front of a large stained-glass window that she wanted to see. She went so far as to speak the words on many people’s minds, “It’s not appropriate or respectful… something that should be on a fairground, on Cromer pier.”

It’s My Cathedral And I’ll Cry If I Want To

Rev Bryant is of course aware that his outlandish actions have irritated many folk and he claims to “understand that traditionalists may question the decision to install a helter skelter.” That said, The Telegraph report him saying “We have some very heartbreaking things that happen here, isn't it also appropriate to celebrate another aspect of life which is our fun and our enjoyment?”

Hang on a second rev. Isn’t that precisely why we have fairgrounds, circuses and Disney worlds? Following this logic, in the future maybe circuses and fairgrounds will build miniature churches and cathedrals incase ‘fun seekers’ get hit with the urge for a quick prayer, or to confess a sin!

The Dean of Norwich, the Very Rev Jane Hedges told the BBC “I think amongst our own congregation there were people who asked questions about it, but once Andy had explained the rationale, I think people were completely converted to the idea.”

The helter-skelter will be available to anyone inside the cathedral until August 18 and it costs £2 per ride and any profit will go into "cathedral initiatives”. So, there you go, you pay £2 and personally add to next year’s initiative, and God only knows what that might be. Or does he?

Top image: An artist's rendition of the Norwich Cathedral's helter skelter. Credit: Annette Hudson / Paul Hurst / Irvin Leisure / Norwich Cathedral. 

By Ashley Cowie

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Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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