They are to the faithful what the Forth Bridge is to freight: perpetual projects that can never be finished.
But while their grand restoration schemes can attract funding packages measured in their millions, those in charge of England’s cathedrals have had to rely on passing the plate for their day-to-day upkeep.
However, six of Yorkshire’s most magnificent places of worship have been made £4m better off from their share of a fund that has paid for repairs in advance of the First World War centenary commemorations this autumn.
They are among 57 Anglican and Catholic cathedrals across England to have been granted money from a £40m repair fund set up by the government in 2014, which is said to have significantly reduced immediate risks to their fabric.
Around a third of the money went on roof repairs, with cash also funding external masonry, guttering, heating and electrical refurbishment.
“Big restoration projects or items in extreme danger – those you can attract money for. But something like a roof is not very attractive as a funding proposition because no-one can see it,” said Canon Tony Macpherson, acting Dean of Wakefield Cathedral, which received £ £746,000 from the fund to service its extremities.
“But these grants have concentrated on bread and butter necessities that don’t always attract donors like a big project would.
“They have meant that our cathedral and many others have been able to do good work to secure their heritage. We can now face the next 25 or 30 years with much greater confidence.”
The Church of England said that with funding now complete, there had been a “significant reduction of problems requiring immediate repair”, but warned that all the recipients had outstanding repairs in areas not covered by the scheme.
“Cathedrals really are like the Forth Bridge,” said Rev Macpherson, “You finish one thing and there’s always something else to move on to.”
At York Minster, where repairs to the Camera Cantorum singers’ chamber cost £300,000 and to the south side of the quire and the exterior of Lady Chapel another £500,000, the acting Dean, Canon Peter Moger, said the fund had revitalised England’s cathedrals.
“The fund was an acknowledgement of the fact that cathedrals continue to play a vital role in the lives of communities across the country,” he said.
“The funds for the Camera Cantorum helped to preserve a building which links the past and the present. Generations of Minster choristers have trained in that space, including 12 choristers and an Alto song man who were killed on active service in the First World War.
“Today the building is full of life and echoes with the glorious singing of young choristers who rehearse every day in the Camera Cantorum just as their predecessors did.”
Ripon, Bradford and Sheffield’s two Cathedrals were the others in Yorkshire to benefit from the fund, whose priority was to make the buildings weatherproof and in a safe enough condition to host acts of remembrance for the centenary of the armistice.
The Church of England said cathedrals contributed more than £220m to the economy, by drawing in 11m visitors a year.
Dr John Inge, Bishop of Worcester and lead bishop for cathedrals, said the fund had underpinned “the vital contributions they make to their communities”.