Cathedrals report record high visitor numbers in research with York Minster, Ripon, Sheffield, Wakefield and Bradford

Cathedrals across England have enjoyed the highest numbers of visitors and congregations since records began, new research shows.

Ripon Cathedral. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.
Ripon Cathedral. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.

Such places of worship hosted nearly 10 million visitors in 2018, an increase of more than 10 per cent on the previous year.

Church of England data released today was collected from all 42 mainland cathedrals including those in Bradford, Ripon, Sheffield, Wakefield and York Minster. Westminster Abbey, although it is a Royal Peculiar, not a cathedral, also took part.

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York Minster. Picture: Gary Longbottom.

Ripon Cathedral said that in the last two years it has seen an average Sunday attendance of more than 300 for the "first time in modern history".

The Dean of Ripon, the Very Rev John Dobson DL, said: “Like many cathedrals we are finding that people continue to be attracted by the English choral tradition which remains a priority for us.

"We now offer this in a way that makes it clear that all generations are welcome and alongside that we have a growing provision for children’s worship. This is in addition to some new services of a contrasting style that attract people who traditionally would not have had their needs met.

“It is also clear that people’s awareness of their spiritual needs can be heightened at times of national uncertainty as well as during personal trials; the fact that there is a part of Ripon Cathedral where people have gathered to worship God and say their prayers for over 1,300 years still speaks powerfully today.”

Third Estates Commissioner Dr Eve Poole, who leads the Church of England’s Cathedrals Support Group, said: “We are proud that our cathedrals are a precious resource not only for the church but for the nation as well. We know from countless anecdotes that many who visit as tourists encounter something deeper, and cathedrals have been imaginative in creating more opportunities for people from all walks of life to cross their thresholds.

“The story behind these encouraging figures is of cherished buildings led by armies of dedicated staff and volunteers, who each year tell afresh in words, worship, music and light, the stories enshrined in these stones, which are the stories of our nation too.”

Major Christian festivals remain at the heart of congregational growth, with 58,000 people attending a cathedral at Easter and 95,000 during Holy Week – the highest numbers recorded for a decade, with Easter attendance up nearly 10,000 since 2008.

Meanwhile numbers at Christmas and Advent services rose five per cent on the previous year to reach 750,000 in 2018.

There were 133,000 people worshipping in cathedrals on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day – second only to the previous year’s record high.

Cathedrals reported a total of 37,000 people worshipping each week in the year 2018, marking an increase of around 14 per cent over the past ten years. Around one in five cathedral worshippers was under the age of 16, also an increase on the previous year.

Attendance at midweek services grew 34 per cent in the ten years to 2018, with nearly 19,000 attending each week. More people attended midweek services than on Sunday for only the second time since records began.

Music in cathedrals continues to flourish with 2,000 full-time choristers, while Remembrance services also drew people in.