Three days after New York City‘s Twin Towers were attacked in September 2001, Time magazine published an article by Nancy Gibbs, historian.

Contemplating the destruction of those two gleaming skyscrapers, she began: ‘If you want to humble an empire it makes sense to maim its cathedrals. They are symbols of its faith and when they crumple and burn, it tells us we are not so powerful and we can’t be safe.’

Nancy Gibbs was writing figuratively, the Twin Towers being ‘cathedrals’ in the sense they were monuments to American capitalism.

It was, however, a telling phrase and one we would do well to mark. Nowhere is as rich in real cathedrals — cathedral churches, the seats of bishops — as Britain.

There are 97 on these isles, 42 of them Anglican. While they may not face the violent fate that befell the Twin Towers, they are, in their own way, under attack.

Classical architecture, robed processions, growling organs, high altars with candles as fat as barge poles: Britain’s cathedrals bring vaulted ambition to county towns. Their soaring ceilings echo to the greatest choral music in the world and visitors descend in vast numbers to gawp and wonder.

The Dean of Bristol invited Muslims to celebrate the end of Ramadan in her cathedral, Quentin Letts writes. Would a mosque allow Christians to use its premises to celebrate the end of Lent?

They range in age from Canterbury, founded in 597 AD, to Guildford, finished in the 1960s. We have leviathans such as Liverpool or Lincoln, which was the tallest building in the world in the early 14th century, and we have tiddlers such as St Asaph’s, smaller than many a chapel.

My own local cathedral, Hereford, may be on the stumpy side but it is enormously loved and revered by county and diocese. It is the venue, once every three years, for the world’s longest-running music festival, the Three Choirs Festival.

Herefordshire does not have any big concert halls but if I want to hear world-class music I need not wait three years. I can just turn up at the cathedral at 5.30pm most weekdays for evensong.

This privilege is open to all. There is no need to reserve a space or buy a ticket. Accessible, top-quality sacred music, free, in a provincial city, and all from the drippy old Church of England. Amazing. And available at a cathedral near you.

Some cathedrals dominate the landscape, galleons in full sail. Ely’s is visible for miles across the flat fenland. Salisbury’s spire beckons Wiltshire wayfarers like some bony forefinger. Worcester’s cathedral towers over that city and its cricket ground, all the more so during the frequent floods. Thank God, we think, for dry land and the safety of Christianity.

We are proud of our cathedrals. Well, we should be. Alas, there are signs that senior figures in the Church of England consider them an embarrassment.

I don’t just mean some publicity stunts such as the fairground helter-skelter erected inside Norwich cathedral in 2019, allegedly to ‘share the story of the Bible in a creative’ way. Likewise, Rochester cathedral (founded in 604 AD by King Ethelbert) turned its nave into a crazy golf course, claiming this would enable people to ‘learn about building emotional and physical bridges’.

The fairground helter-skelter erected inside Norwich cathedral in 2019, allegedly to ‘share the story of the Bible in a creative’ way

It is easier to imagine visitors entering that cathedral in need of spiritual comfort, perhaps after a bereavement or some other crisis, and being bewildered and upset by idiots goofing about on the crazy golf course.

Rochester’s Canon Matthew Rushton excused the scheme by saying: ‘The Archbishop of Canterbury said to us that if you don’t know how to have fun in cathedrals then you’re not doing your job properly.’

Last month the Dean of Bristol invited Muslims to celebrate the end of Ramadan by holding a feast inside her cathedral. A local Labour MP turned up for photographs. The BBC gushingly carried comments about ‘religious harmony’ and ‘collaboration between faith groups’.

Would a mosque ever allow Christians to occupy its premises to celebrate the end of Lent? Was Bristol cathedral’s behaviour not that of an institution that lacks certainty and self-belief, or even Belief with a capital B?

Nancy Gibbs’s warning about symbols of faith and the crumbling of empires came to mind.

Read it all in the Daily Mail