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Closure of St Paul's Cathedral
21 October 2011
The Right Reverend Graeme Knowles, Dean of St Paulís Cathedral, issued the following statement on Friday 21 October:
It seems a very long time since the protesters arrived around the Cathedral last weekend and I want to stress at the outset that we have listened to them and indeed developed a conversation with them.
We are delighted that the London protests have been peaceful and indeed there has been a good atmosphere generally between Cathedral staff and those dwelling in the tents around St Paulís.
There is something profound about protest being made and heard in front of this most holy place: a gathering together of those concerned about poverty and inequality facing the great Dome of this Cathedral Church.
You actually have to be here to witness it for yourself because the extent of feeling and protest is not easily translated via media in that sense.
But it is about the practical and safety issues which this peaceful protest has raised which I need to address with you today.
It should be obvious to anyone approaching the Cathedral that the size of the camp and the consequent compliance issues which it inevitably raises, has increasingly put us in a difficult position.
Last night, I met with members of the Chapter to discuss some of these key issues. As the week has gone on, and in a statement we issued earlier this week, we intimated how difficult the situation was becoming.
As a result of that meeting, and reports received today from our independent Health, Safety and Fire officers, I have written an open letter to the protestors this afternoon advising them that we have no lawful alternative but to close St Paulís Cathedral until further notice. I have here copies of the letter clearly outlining the reasons we have had to take this dramatic course of action which I will ask my colleagues to distribute.
The Health, Safety and Fire officers have pointed out that access to and from the Cathedral is seriously limited. With so many stoves and fires and lots of different types of fuel around, there is a clear fire hazard. Then there is the public health aspect which speaks for itself. The dangers relate not just to Cathedral staff and visitors but are a potential hazard to those encamped themselves.
The decision to close St Paulís Cathedral is unprecedented in modern times and I have asked the Registrar to implement emergency procedures whereby the building remains closed but fit for purpose until such a time that we can open safely. Our 200 staff and 100 volunteers are also being informed of this decision this afternoon.
I want to say two simple things at this point.
1)We have done this with a very heavy heart, but it is simply not possible to fulfil our day to day obligations to worshippers, visitors and pilgrims in current circumstances.
2)That all of the Chapter are at one on this and recognise the complexities of the issues facing us at this time.
As you can see in the open letter, I am asking the protestors to recognise the huge issues facing us at this time and asking them to leave the vicinity of the building so that the Cathedral can re-open as soon as possible. So many people who visit this great Cathedral come here, of course, because they love the Gospel of justice, peace and reconciliation (which some of the protestors are embracing for a whole host of reasons) , but also because they want to enjoy the peace and tranquillity of a place of prayer and pilgrimage.
Some will rightly say that the Church should be alongside those seeking equality and financial probity. We are. The debate about a more just society is at the heart of much of our work at St Paulís and indeed we hope to contribute to the wider debate in the very near future through a Report from the St Paulís Institute.
But today is about our ability, practically, to carry on our mission with free and open access to this public space and treasured place and I hope that the protestors will understand the issues we are facing, recognise that their voice has been legitimately heard, and withdraw peacefully.