Edinburgh's St Giles Cathedral: Concerns raised over plans for entry charge at cathedral
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Fears have been raised over how plans to charge for entry to St Giles Cathedral would affect people just looking for a quiet place of contemplation in times of trouble.
The Church of Scotland wants to charge visitors to the historic High Kirk unless they are going to worship. The move is designed to help to meet repair and maintenance costs which have soared to almost £1 million a year. But it requires the consent of the city council to vary the catherdal’s trust deeds.
The full council on Thursday authorised the variation in the deeds, but also called for a briefing on how it would affect the rights of Edinburgh residents to access the cathedral under the Edinburgh burgh churches scheme and how “worshippers” would be defined.
Margaret Graham, Labour councillor for City Centre ward said: "St Giles will celebrate 900 years as a working church in 2024 and is a great asset to the Old Town community and the nation. The current suggested donation for entry is £5 and a 45-minute audio tour can be purchased for £5.50, so there are mechanisms for both voluntary contributions and paid services at present. The precedent for charging entry to some of our historic buildings is now unfortunately widely accepted. With budget constraints ongoing, will charging for city museums be the next step we will be asked to consider?”
People visited the cathedral not only to worship, but to find “a calm, tranquil space when in need of solace”, she said. "Citizens can visit St Giles to reflect and rest when troubled about events in their daily lives, and considering what many of them have been through in recent times, this valuable resource could be removed.”
She asked how the charging system would differentiate between paying tourists, non-worshipping Edinburgh residents and worshipping Edinburgh residents. “And what methods will be deployed to collect money that will not deter Edinburgh residents from gaining access to St Giles as is their right under the terms of the Edinburgh burgh church scheme?”
Fellow Labour councillor Jane Meagher told the council: “I’m an atheist but there was a time when I was under sever emotional and personal distress and at that time I remember very clearly seeking out spaces such as St Giles where I could go to find solace and contemplation and quiet space, and that was invaluable to me. I recognise we cannot dictate to the Kirk how they manage their facilities, but I would appeal to them on a very personal level – and I’m sure I speak on behalf of many, many people in this city – to make it as flexible as possible, to allow such quiet contemplation to take place.”
Green councillor Dan Heap said: “This is potentially quite a major change to the facilities we have publicly accessible in the centre of the city and there are potentially issues there around deterring access to public spaces.” And fellow Green Alys Mumford said that as well as beautiful historic places, people needed to be able to access warm spaces and public toilets,
But City Centre Conservative councillor Joanna Mowat said churches were expensive to maintain. “The convention across most of Europe is if you’re accessing for worship you can go for free and if you’re just coming into visit, you pay – to me that is an entirely reasonable way of ensuring that buildings can be maintained.”
And Labour’s Scott Arthur, who is a Kirk elder, said places of worship right across the city were just as important to their local communities as St Giles was to the city. He said: “If the council does decide not to give the church this power to raise a charge then perhaps it’s a duty to step in and help the church with the financial problems it’s facing. If we’re going to block that, I think we have a duty to come up with an alternative for them or at least work with them on that – we can’t just say no, we have to do more than that.”