Are England’s cathedrals embracing celebration or desecration by offering silent discos for visitors?

Are England’s cathedrals embracing celebration or desecration by offering silent discos for visitors?


On Saturday night, over 400 individuals gathered at Winchester Cathedral to dance and enjoy a mix of classic and contemporary songs. The event charged approximately £25 per person and featured a bar for drinks and individual headphones for music.

“If someone had informed me a year ago that I would find myself inside the cathedral, holding a beer and singing along to the chorus of Adele’s Rolling in the Deep, I would have deemed them crazy,” stated Matt Rooks-Taylor, a reporter from the area. “Joyful expressions could be seen everywhere I turned.”

However, not all are satisfied with the increasing popularity of silent discos being held in England’s magnificent cathedrals. With at least 14 events scheduled in the upcoming months, a petition against the “disrespectful use of our sacred historic sites” has gained over 2,400 signatures. In response, a prayer vigil was held outside the ancient Canterbury Cathedral during a silent disco earlier this month.

The focus of the dispute lies in how the exorbitant expenses of operating and upkeeping cathedrals are covered. In England, 39 out of 42 Anglican cathedrals hold Grade I-listed status, and three – Durham, Canterbury, and Westminster Abbey – are also designated as world heritage sites.

No government funding is received, and the Church of England only provides a small portion of the expenses. The majority of income is obtained through grants, donations, events, and in certain situations, entrance fees.

The annual expenses for running Canterbury Cathedral are approximately £11 million, equivalent to £30,000 per day. Winchester Cathedral has a yearly cost of £5.1 million, or £14,000 per day. Hereford Cathedral’s yearly budget is £2.5 million, while Guildford Cathedral, which was built in the 1940s and is relatively new, has a running cost of £1 million per year.

On Saturday evening in Guildford, a silent disco was held with 1,000 attendees in two separate sessions that ended at midnight. The first service of the day saw worshippers arriving at 7:30am.

Matt O’Grady, the chief operating officer of the cathedral, stated that individuals visited on Saturday to experience a space that would typically be unlit and peaceful. He expressed that by earning revenue in this manner, the cathedral is able to remain open. Without their commercial endeavors, such as markets and musical gatherings, it would not be possible to offer a sacred space.

There will be another quiet dance event taking place at Guildford Cathedral next Saturday, followed by two additional events in August and two more in February 2025.

A silent disco event at Hereford Cathedral, which sold out on Saturday, may be held again later this year. The Very Revd Sarah Brown, the dean of the cathedral, stated that while the cathedral is primarily a place for prayer, worship, and ministry, they must also find ways to generate additional income in order to cover rising costs without public funding. This is vital in order to continue making this sacred space accessible to all.

Not everyone may like it, but if participating in an event like this can improve the public’s view of the place and break down barriers that keep people from entering, then it has achieved its goal.

Opponents of the “raves in the naves” believe that cathedrals were intended to be holy places dedicated to the worship of God. Cajetan Skowronski, a physician from East Sussex, who led the petition and prayer gathering at Canterbury, referred to the discos as “irreverent and blasphemous.”

“Discos are fine in their proper place, which is a nightclub, but not inside the body of a cathedral. The best way to raise money would be to make the building work as a cathedral in terms of drawing in worshippers, people who make regular donations. Once it ceases to function as a cathedral and becomes simply an events space, why not sell it?”

Skowronski stated that it is difficult to envision another major world religion handling their holy sites in a similar manner. He expressed concern over the use of bars and strobe lights, essentially turning the cathedral into a nightclub. While he has nothing against dancing, drinking, and celebrating, he believes it should be done in an appropriate setting.

The commercial director of Winchester Cathedral, John Blake, invited critics to see for themselves. He described the silent disco on Saturday night as a “great success” and a “joyous occasion.”

He stated, “There was no intention to be disrespectful towards any religion. The event was a positive and inspiring experience, attracting individuals who typically do not attend cathedral services. The cathedral was fully restored for the Sunday morning service.”

Jo Kelly-Moore, chair of the Association of English Cathedrals and dean of St Albans, expressed that cathedrals serve as important repositories of our country’s social, religious, and political history. They also remain accessible to all for the purposes of worship, comfort, prayer, and inspiration.

While some may accomplish this without payment, it is necessary for all of us to establish an economic system in order to maintain sustainability.

“In St Albans, the daily operating cost for the cathedral is £6,000, and any income generated is reinvested to support worship and mission, maintain the structure, manage visitors, engage in outreach, and cover staffing expenses.”