Experts warn that parts of the cathedral are "falling down" and that the building as a whole is "in serious jeopardy". A fifth of the structure's internal marble pillars are currently held together by duct tape.In my small experience of spiritual World Heritage sites, Canterbury and the Bulguksa temple in Korea have been the most remarkable.
In July, masonry around the Great South Window fell out, forcing the authorities to fence off the area around the window and south entrance to protect the public. There are fears that the fourteenth century window, which is 80ft tall, could collapse unless work is carried out immediately. It is estimated that the repairs for this alone will cost at least £500,000 and could take up to 12 months, delaying other projects.
"Bits of the cathedral are falling down," said Chris McWilliams, a cathedral spokesman. "There are very urgent structural issues. It is in serious jeopardy. We have to act quickly if we don't want to have a ruin there."
Trustees of the cathedral warned in 2006 that there would be "disastrous consequences" unless urgent action was taken to renovate the building, which is suffering from serious damage caused by corrosion and pollution. However, a global campaign to raise £50 million by 2011 has so far managed to raise only £9.4 million in the three years since it was launched. [. . .] Despite being one of the most popular tourist sites in England, the cathedral receives no money from the Government and relies on income from visitors to cover routine running costs.
The cathedral, which was founded in 602 by St Augustine, survived extensive bombing of the city during the Second World War, but now its trustees believe it faces its greatest threat. Matthew Butler, chief executive of the Save Canterbury Cathedral appeal, said that the challenge is enormous. "People said that there was a risk that it would start falling down and we're seeing signs of that happening," he said.
The problem of rain leaking through the roof has been dealt with, but there remains a list of pressing issues that are causing concern for cathedral staff. £6 million is needed for the Bell Harry Tower, the cathedral's most imposing structure where 500-year-old carvings are wearing away. Around £2 million is needed to preserve the cathedral's collections of books and artefacts, including a "signature", or two crosses, of the illiterate William the Conqueror and another document signed by King Henry II relating his penance for the murder in 1170 of Thomas a Becket. Part of the library is currently closed to the public.
The campaign to raise the outstanding £40 million will be stepped up next week and it is understood that a bid will soon be made for a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, which gives around £15 million to the Church of England every year. The cathedral has been designated as a World Heritage Site and received more than one million visitors in 2008, but receives no state funding or money from the Church of England.
Despite our present troubles, perhaps the See of Canterbury and its Cathedral may yet endure as symbols of the common faith of Anglicans and the "faith once delivered to the saints."