Reverend Canon Andy Bryant, of Norwich Cathedral, said the idea came to him when he was visiting the Sistine Chapel in Rome.
"I had the slightly risky thought of 'I know this is amazing, but actually the ceiling at Norwich Cathedral is every bit as wonderful'," he said.
"We have one of the greatest collections of medieval roof bosses anywhere in northern Europe.
"The trouble is they are so high up that most people never get a chance to really appreciate them.
"And so was born the idea, could we get people up higher to these roof bosses and so appreciate that they are exquisite art as they are the most beautiful pieces of stone carving but also the story that's captured within them which is the story of the Bible."
The funfair ride has a viewing platform at 40ft, allowing riders nearer to the cathedral's 69ft-high roof.
Roof bosses are seen at points where the ribs of the cathedral roof join.
They date back to the mid 15th century when a new roof was built following a fire.
Rev Bryant said there was a "serious intent" behind the project, called Seeing It Differently, and he hoped it would attract more visitors.
"We all are always looking to broaden the appeal of our cathedrals because some people can feel that cathedrals are slightly exclusive, they're for a particular type of person," said Rev Bryant.
"We want everybody to feel that they can come in and enjoy it."
It comes after Rochester Cathedral in Kent installed a crazy golf course in its nave.
Rev Bryant said he understood that traditionalists may question the decision to install a helter skelter, but he believed people would accept it when it was explained.
"I also want to affirm the fact that this cathedral is about the whole of life," he said.
"We celebrate very solemn things here, we have some very heartbreaking things that happen here, isn't it also appropriate to celebrate another aspect of life which is our fun and our enjoyment."
He described cathedrals as the "great success story of the Church of England".
"Our numbers at worship are growing, our visitor numbers are growing, but we have this unique role where we engage with the community in ways maybe that parish churches can't," he said.
"This is actually the sign of a very confident cathedral.
"We can take risks like this as we know who we are, we know what we're rooted in, we know about our faith.
"Very far from being desperate this is a sign of our confidence and we know exactly what a cathedral is for.
"By bringing lots of people in we know we get an opportunity to share our story, share our faith."
The Dean of Norwich, the Very Rev Jane Hedges, said: "I think amongst our own congregation there were people who asked questions about it, but once Andy had explained the rationale I think people were completely converted to the idea."
The helter skelter will be at the cathedral until August 18.
It costs £2 per ride, with funds covering the cost of hire from a funfair company and any surplus going into cathedral initiatives.
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