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UK cathedrals to light up in new night initiative

As night falls, cathedrals take on a very different aspect – and this dramatic combination of light and shadow is set to attract visitors the first co-ordinated nationwide Cathedrals at Night UK initiative for a special night time visit in May.

Co-ordinated by the Association of English Cathedrals, 12 cathedrals are taking part in the event on 14th May including Bristol, Coventry, Derby, Ely, Exeter, Gloucester, Hereford, Cathedral Isle of Man, Lichfield, Wells, Portsmouth, Salisbury (online), York Minster and St David’s in Wales. Several other cathedrals such as Liverpool, Durham, Bradford and St Edmundsbury will be offering ‘Cathedrals at Night’ events later in the year.

UK Cathedrals at Night Bristol Cathedral

 Bristol Cathedral at night. PICTURE: Courtesy of the Association of English Cathedrals.

The initiative has been inspired by the successful Les Nuits des Cathedrals, which has been taking place every May since 2008 and which will also be held on 14th May. This European-wide initiative includes cathedrals such as Bayeaux, Cambrai, Luxembourg and Toulouse, while in Latvia there is an event called Baznīcu Nākts (Night of Churches) at the end of May.

The Very Rev Adrian Dorber, the Dean of Lichfield and chair of the AEC, said the Cathedrals at Night initiative “represents a new, coordinated approach to cathedral outreach and visitor engagement which we hope will shine a light on cathedrals nationally and help our visitors make new memories”.

It is an approach that has been welcomed by participating cathedrals. 

“I was really excited to learn of a European-wide initiative to attract people to our cathedrals,” said Rosemary Clarke, of the Cathedral Isle of Man. “They are such special places but many people regard them as alien. The Isle of Man is in an unusual position by being part of the Archdiocese of York, but not being part of the UK or the EU. It’s great to be part of this communal activity.”

UK Cathedrals at Night Isle of Man Cathedral

  Isle of Man Cathedral at night. PICTURE: Courtesy of the Association of English Cathedrals.

Joseph Keele-Toms, of Portsmouth Cathedral, said that being part of a national programme of events with cathedrals across the UK and Europe was “a fantastic way for Cathedrals to become more actively part of community life”.

“We hope that people who may not have visited it recently come to see it in a whole new light, and encourage a wide range of the community to come in and explore.”

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During these special night time openings, varied activities will be on offer including concerts, art displays, tours by candlelight, prayer stations, talks and family friendly events.

The exact programme varies from cathedral-to-cathedral. At Portsmouth a combination of sound, light and projection takes visitors on a journey around the cathedral, while on the Isle of Man attention focuses on the themes of ‘Light and Darkness’ and ‘Chaos and Peace’ with talks by an astronomer, performances by local poets, music and children’s activities with storytelling, Lego building and crafts. 

UK Cathedrals at Night Portsmouth Cathedral 

  Portsmouth Cathedral at night. PICTURE: Courtesy of the Association of English Cathedrals.

Ultimately, the hope is that it will become an annual event, providing a way for greater community engagement with Cathedrals able to broaden their mission and build lasting relationships.

As Clarke pointed out: “Sometimes there feels like a great gulf between those who are part of a church and those who see the church as irrelevant, even if they are interested in big life questions. We need to find ways of engaging with others either by joining in activities that are nothing to do with church or by finding creative ways of drawing people into our buildings and activities – or both.

“Cathedrals at Night is one way of inviting people in, providing an interesting, non-threatening opportunity to explore our building and grounds and meet with members of the church.”



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