St Paul’s Cathedral in London, Christopher Wren’s 17th century masterpiece, is to close after global equality campaigners established a camp site in its grounds.
The decision applies until further notice and was made “with very heavy heart,” said the cathedral’s Dean Graeme Knowles. He asked the protesters to leave.
The decision “is unprecedented in modern times,” Knowles told a press conference at the building today. The building was last forced to shut its doors during the Second World War when London was being bombed. “With so many stoves and fires and lots of different types of fuel around, there is a clear fire hazard. Then there’s the public health aspect which speaks for itself.”
Inspired by anti-Wall Street protests in New York and elsewhere, demonstrators gathered in London from Oct. 15, pitching about 200 tents in the area around the cathedral. The group, calling itself Occupy London Stock Exchange, was blocked by police from approaching the LSE, which is about 100 yards from the camp site.
While the Church of England stood “alongside those seeking equality and financial probity,” the camp was affecting the cathedral’s daily life, Knowles said.
“In order that we might reopen as speedily as possible, we ask you to withdraw peacefully,” he wrote in an open letter to the demonstrators.
A statement from the protesters said that while they were disappointed by the cathedral’s decision, they would not leave.
The protest and “awareness-raising exercise -– and our attempts to provide a truly participatory and accountable forum in which to investigate ways forward -– will continue,” the campers said.
The cathedral was not motivated by financial concerns, Knowles said. Even so, it cost 20,000 pounds ($32,000) a day to run the building and 80 percent of that was covered by revenue from tourists. The number of visitors has fallen since the camp was established and had reduced its earnings, he said.
On Monday, the demonstrators said that they opposed bailing out banks, public expenditure cuts, arms dealing, corporate profits, global oppression and war, while supporting genuinely independent regulators and “authentic” global equality.
The camp site blocked access to fire engines for both the cathedral and the chapter house, where many of the cathedral’s 200 staff and 100 volunteers work, Knowles said in an interview following the press conference.
The decision did not involve either Bishop of London Richard Chartres or the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, leader of the Anglican Church, Knowles said. Williams said in 2009, bankers have failed to repent for their roles in the global financial collapse in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp.
Chartres said in 2009, bankers “have a duty to be extravagantly generous, because to those to whom much has been given much will be required.”
Communication with the protesters will continue, Knowles said. “We’re not pulling up a drawbridge,” he said. “We issued the letter and we hope there’ll be a response from the protesters.”
The church has not yet decided what it will do should the protesters decline to leave, Knowles said. To his knowledge, the church has no other suitable land in London it could offer, he said.