Nearly 300 Salisbury Cathedral volunteers, Blue Badge Guides and families tested the Cathedral’s new ticketing system and previewed developments to the visitor experience ahead of reopening to general visitors tomorrow, Wednesday, 19 May.
Among the visible changes for visitors is the levelling of the steep ramp into the Cloisters, which has been replaced by a gentle incline using paving that blends into the original Cloister floor. The work, carried out by the Cathedral’s expert masons and an external company, took nine weeks and was generously funded by the Friends of Salisbury Cathedral
Another noticeable absence is the old Welcome Desk, previously sited in the centre of Consistory Court (the ticketing area of the Cathedral). It has been replaced by an elegant, curved desk that is set to one side, offering plenty of room for visitors to check in, and easy access to the shop.
Invisible to the public is the change to the Cathedral’s ticketing system, with an all new ‘back office’ that should mean booking is quicker and easier, accommodating the government’s track and trace requirements.
Inside the Cathedral, staff have spent lockdown working with specialists to ensure the building’s story is being told as fully as possible. New stories have been added to the visitor route and the theme of worship has been explored in more detail, reflecting the Cathedral’s pivotal role in the design and practice of worship before and after 1220.
In the 13th century Salisbury Cathedral introduced the Sarum Rite, a form of worship which underpins many of the practices still found in the Book of Common Prayer. Processions were a major feature of the Sarum Rite, a practice reflected today in many of the Cathedral’s renowned services like Darkness to Light.
Extra elements have been added into the tour too. Have you ever noticed the ‘aumbries’ or cupboards in which the Holy Oils are stored in the Morning Chapel? Or wondered about the large ‘muniment’ chests in the aisle just outside the chapel? Perhaps you’ve puzzled about the huge Cross and weathervane that have been hidden away near the North Transept…?
There’s even a video of our Clerk of Works, Gary Price, climbing to the top of the Cathedral Spire to repair the Cathedral’s anemometer, or windspeed recorder.
This new information, along with new images such as the Cathedral when it flooded at the start of the last century, goes hand in hand with illustrative video that can be accessed via special QR codes on selected signs.
Art also remains an important part of the visitor experience. Antony Gormley’s enigmatic figure, GRIP NET, which stands high above the Cathedral Quire, is set to stay until 2022. Called ‘an angel for our times’ by the Times critic, Rachel Campbell-Johnston, the sculpture has stood in the Cathedral throughout the pandemic, a symbol of human strength and fragility. The sculpture was originally installed as part of Celebrating 800 years of Spirit and Endeavour, the art exhibition that marked the Cathedral’s 800th anniversary in 2020.
Two other pieces from the exhibition also remain on display: Peter Newman’s Skystation, an interactive sculpture that also acts as a piece of public seating allowing visitors to recline and contemplate of the sky and the Cathedral’s West Front, and Conrad Shawcross’ Formation 1 (The Dappled Light of the Sun), sited in the north west corner of the Cathedral lawn, where the interplay between light and shadow beneath the sculpture invites the viewer to enjoy the shade of the sculpture just as they would the shade of a tree.
Speaking ahead of reopening, the Cathedral’s sub-Dean and Canon Chancellor, The Reverend Edward Probert, said:
“We are grateful to the Friends of Salisbury Cathedral for covering the cost of our new entrance ramp, which makes the visitor entrance much more accessible. We are also thankful for the awards received via the Cultural Recovery Fund and Heritage Emergency Fund, which have helped to support us during the pandemic and allowed us to prepare so thoroughly for reopening. The new entrance and desk are certainly eye-catching and complement the Cathedral’s architecture, and we hope the new information, images and insights will make visiting the Cathedral even more special.”
The Refectory (restaurant) and Cathedral shop also open on Wednesday 19 May. Seated, outdoor refreshments are currently available from The Bell Tower Tearooms, and takeaway service is available if required.
Visitor tickets are now on sale.
With numbers still capped, booking ahead is essential, and also attracts a discount. Hundreds of visitors have already booked their places, just a day after they went on sale.
Travel Trade customers can now reserve tickets for groups and visitors by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The visitor enquiry line on 01722 512156 is open Monday to Friday between 09.00 and 17.00.
The safety of customers remains a priority for the Cathedral. Last year it was awarded a Visit Britain’s Good to Go Mark, guaranteeing a high level of customer protection during the pandemic and, in line with current regulations, social distancing will still be in place when the building reopens, with the rule of six (or two households only) applying. Masks must be worn inside the building (unless you are exempt), even in the Cloisters.
Groups are welcome to visit the Cathedral, as long as visitors are broken down into their groups of six (or households) before they enter the building.