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Plans for comedy nights at Newcastle Cathedral are 'blasphemous' says Queen's former chaplain

by Donna Birrell

A former chaplain to the Queen has criticised Newcastle Cathedral over its plans to host comedy evenings. 

The first ‘Cathedral of Comedy’ show is due in May and food and alcohol will also be sold during the evening. 

Dr Gavin Ashenden is a former Anglican Bishop who is now a Roman Catholic. He says the decision to hold the events is offensive and blasphemous. 

“'What I’m complaining about is a degree of spiritual illiteracy, where the people appear to have no sense of being able to read the meaning of the building that they're in and they can't distinguish between a barn and a cathedral.

“There's always going to be a struggle between local culture and Christian culture. This business of trying to make cathedrals commercially viable and entertainment is another example of it.

“It's a selling out at best, it's blasphemy at worst. When you walk into the cathedral, you are literally walking into a building that’s shaped like a crucifix. You enter the body of Christ. It's a moment for penitence and awe and love.

“It's not a moment for gin and masked balls and partying. You do that somewhere else.”

On its website, Newcastle Cathedral says it regularly hosts events held by talented guest performers which “make dynamic use of the refurbished nave and encourage visitors and members of the community to engage with this special building for the first time.”

Among the comedians booked to perform are David o’Doherty and Phil Wang and the cathedral says “every month we will be offering a fantastic line-up of comedy, a fully stocked bar and some of the best food vendors in the area.”  

Newcastle is not the only cathedral choosing to host entertainment evenings, with Leicester and Bristol also regularly staging comedy events. Truro Cathedral has also held a Masked Ball complete with fire-breathers, stilt-walkers and a gin lounge.  

Newcastle Cathedral was formerly known as the Cathedral Church of St Nicholas and last year underwent a £6 million revamp, partly funded by the National Lottery.

A spokesperson for Newcastle Cathedral said: “Newcastle Cathedral is delighted to be hosting the “Cathedral of Comedy” series of shows, in partnership with a team of known and trusted events organisers. 

"Since our recent redevelopment works were completed, we have been actively looking for opportunities to bring new audiences into our ancient and beautiful worship space – to “See us in a New Light."  

"We have found that those who cross our threshold are blown away by the atmosphere of our building - and that while they might come first for a non-religious event, they are then far more likely to come again to join us for worship, for a carol service, or just to pray quietly.

 “Our hallowed walls have held the joy and the tears of the people of Newcastle for 900 years. 

"Nothing has changed.  A Cathedral is a place in which people should experience joy – whether through music, words or the creative arts. 

"As laughter is a natural human expression of joy, created by God, we look forward to hearing our walls ring with it! 

"We are confident - and will continue to work closely with the promoters to ensure - that the comedians will respect our sacred space, and bring nothing but positivity to a great evening of entertainment.”

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