There are some 42,000 Christian churches, chapels and meeting houses in the United Kingdom, and visiting these buildings can provide a better understanding of the past and its influence on today, according to Emma Clarke.
“The development and spread of places of worship play a significant part in the history of the British Isles,” says Clarke, project manager of National Churches Trust Heritage Services. “Churches provide a rich architectural heritage that reflects changes in religious practice, architecture and vernacular building styles.”
And because exploring churches (both old and new) is a popular activity among visitors to her country, Clarke is using a website, ExploreChurches.org, to help tour operators integrate places of worship into itineraries. The website provides photographs and information about the history and architecture of each building, along with practical details including hours, directions and access details.
“The ExploreChurches website will have booking platform just for tour operators, who can customize an itinerary with experiences that operators can only receive through the website,” she says. “We can arrange hands-on activities, afternoon tea or dinner in the church with the verger (church official).”
The themes and interests represented in churches are varied:
- A tour of York Minster, which has a tremendous collection of medieval stained-glass windows, can be led by the master glazier. And visitors can make their own stained glass art.
- A visit to Lincoln Cathedral, where part of “The Da Vinci Code” was filmed, can include a stop at the hotel where Tom Hanks stayed.
- In Cornwall, groups can walk in the footsteps of the Celtic saints; discover crosses, standing stones, holy wells and hidden churches; and even camp overnight in churches.
- When visiting St. John the Evangelist church in Herefordshire, groups can also see the Shobdon Arches—all that remains of an 11th-century Norman church.
“Churches are treasure houses of heritage, history and community, and the U.K. has a wonderful, national collection peppered across the countryside and nestling in our towns,” Clarke says.
Top photo: St. John the Evangelist church in Herefordshire
Photo by explorechurches.org