Heritage careers in cathedrals

 8 February 2011

With thousand-year histories, British cathedrals are standing records of social and religious history. They are spectacular architectural assets, repositories of famous treasures and burials, and living places of art, education and worship.

Every other year, Chichester Cathedral  organises the Flower Festival.
Every other year, Chichester Cathedral organises the Flower Festival.

A thriving cultural community

The original construction of Chichester Cathedral dates back to the eleventh century, with much additional building in later times. It boasts an exquisite series of oak-panel paintings of the early sixteenth century, and an exposed mosaic floor from Chichester’s Roman days.

Works by modern masters feature prominently, including a tapestry by John Piper, a Graham Sutherland painting, and a stained-glass window by Russian artist Marc Chagall. In this tradition, a new work is to be commissioned in celebration of the centenary of Walter Hussey, Dean of Chichester and patron of the arts.

Archaeology days involve practical digs, organised in conjunction with the county archaeologist and the district museum

The cathedral plays a prominent role in the local community: exhibiting and commissioning artworks, staging free lunchtime concerts of orchestral and choral music, and maintaining partnerships with the city’s Festival Theatre and Pallant Gallery.

Nightly concerts take place during Chichester’s festival time in July – anything from classical music to contemporary jazz. In December, up to 18 carol concerts are held for local organisations, such as the Fire Brigade.

Working at the cathedral

Much of the work undertaken at Chichester Cathedral is voluntary, but there are employment opportunities for those who want to work in the heritage sector.

A Restoration and Development Trust (RDT) oversees conservation work, both to the structure of the building, and to its collections, such as the holdings of medieval books, and is responsible for fundraising initiatives.

The cathedral also has a very strong educational department. According to Colin Clark, head of guided tours,

"We work with schools to organise visits and workshops here, with activities related to their curriculum. In 2008, we received over 10,000 children on educational visits. We arrange theological discussions with members of the clergy for students taking Religious Studies at A-level.

"Then there are archaeology days, which might involve practical digs, organised in conjunction with the county archaeologist and the district museum."

Apart from the clerical positions at the cathedral, there are a number of salaried employees:

  • The senior lay appointment is the Communar, who manages the day-to-day running of the place, and coordinates the activities of the various specialist workers
  • The RDT employs one full-time and two part-time members of staff
  • A Visitor Services Officer oversees the heritage aspects, producing the guide literature and working to enhance the experience of tourists
  • An Education Officer and Assistant Education Officer
  • An Enterprises Manager, responsible for the shop, café, outside catering and room hire

Short-term work experience is available to those on Cultural Studies or Heritage Studies courses. Teaching experiences is a great advantage for the educational roles, where knowledge of the curriculum and exam system is important.

Building a network of good contacts is another asset, as is a generally flexible and imaginative approach. Personal faith is not a requirement, although a good knowledge of the Christian faith is, for obvious reasons, useful for working there.

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