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Study Says Cathedrals Pleasing Pilgrims But Failing Secular Visitors

 Emyr Williams


New research by a team from the University of Warwick’s Religions and Education Research Unit has found that Cathedrals are still serving religious visitors but are failing to adequately reach out to secular tourists.

The team led by Dr Emyr Williams and The Revd Canon Professor Leslie J Francis, both of the University of Warwick, surveyed 514 visitors to St Davids Cathedral in West Wales to examine the differences in visitor experience between religious and non religious visitors to the Cathedral.

Of the 514 people sampled 77% said they were Christian, 21% said they did not belong to any religious group, and the remaining 2% comprised of a small number of Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims and Sikhs. The largest denominational affiliation was Anglicanism with 62% of the sample describing themselves as such.

The team then separated out religious from non religious visitors on the basis of church attendance.

Those who claimed to attend church weekly were seen by the research teams as effective religious pilgrims who reported very high satisfaction levels with almost every aspect of their visit. They found the cathedral inviting (97%) and uplifting (95%), an

awe-inspiring experience (87%), and that they felt a sense of God’s presence (77%).

The researchers also found that it was among these pilgrims that the cathedral shop did its business, with nearly three-quarters visiting the shop (73%), appreciating the range of products (74%) and judging the products to be reasonably priced (73%). Over half of these pilgrims (55%) had made a purchase in the cathedral shop.

The picture for secular tourists (defined as those who claimed never to attend church) began with the same sort of figures. For instance over three-quarters of the secular tourists found the cathedral uplifting (77%) and inviting (88%) and 68% found the cathedral awe inspiring - However only 18% felt a sense of God’s presence.

This low spiritual impact on secular visitors was also interestingly matched by a relatively poor experience for the those visitors in the Cathedral shop. Just half of the secular tourists (49%) visited the cathedral shop, compared with three quarters of the pilgrims (73%). Just two-fifths of the secular tourists (41%) considered the cathedral shop to carry a good range of products, compared with three-quarters of the pilgrims (74%). Under one-third of the secular tourists (31%) made a purchase in the cathedral shop, compared with more than half of the pilgrims (55%)

Dr Emyr Williams, from the University of Warwick is concerned that the Cathedrals are doubly missing out with this captive audience of secular tourists – failing both in terms of adequately to make either a significant spiritual impact and failing even to deliver a satisfactory tourist shopping experience

Dr Emyr Williams said:

"Cathedrals still seem over focused on pilgrim tourists. This strategy misses the great challenge held out by the Archbishops’ Commission on Cathedrals of engaging in their mission of teaching, evangelising and welcome among secular tourists. More problematic still is the implication of the finding that the focus of the cathedral shop is symptomatic of the positioning of the whole cathedral which seems to understand the secular visitor so much less adequately than it understands the pilgrim."

Notes for Editors:

  1. The research was led by Dr Emyr Williams is  a Research Fellow at the University of Warwick’s Religions and Education Research Unit with his colleagues The Revd Canon Professor Leslie J Francis and Dr Mandy Robbins, both also of the University of Warwick and the Revd Jennie Annis of the Welsh National Centre for Religious Education.
  2. The full research paper is entitled Visitor experiences of St Davids Cathedral: the two worlds of pilgrims and secular tourists and has been published in the journal Rural Theology.

For further information contact:

Emyr Williams, Research Fellow
Warwick Religions and Education Research Unit
Institute of Education, University of Warwick
Telephone - 02476 522690

Peter Dunn, Press and Media Relations Manager
University of Warwick 02476 523708 or
07767 655860

PR10 19th February 2008