18 January 2021, The Tablet

Cathedrals in the eye of the Covid needle

Cathedrals in the eye of the Covid needle

Salisbury Cathedral is a centre for the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine.
Steve Parsons/PA

Church of England cathedrals are being used to administer the Covid-19 vaccines that are being rolled out across the country. 

In Salisbury's Gothic 13th century nave, live organ music is accompanying the vaccinations as the established Church steps up to answer the need for more spaces to safely administer vaccinations to the public.

Patients aged 80 and above from three healthcare practices in the district were invited to the iconic venue, chosen to act as a hub for the Sarum South Primary Care Network. “I’m just overjoyed that we can play our part in this,” said the Very Rev'd Nicholas Papadopulos, Dean of Salisbury. The cathedral's organist John Challenger said in a tweet he “would be playing Handel's Largo and much more great organ music”.

With vaccine centres expected to process more than 1000 people per day, NHS trusts have been looking for large and well-ventilated spaces in which to give patients jabs without inadvertently spreading the virus.

People waiting for vaccines have been seen queuing outside Salisbury and Lichfield, which was the first cathedral in the UK to provide vaccines. In Blackburn the cathedral is opening its doors as Lancashire’s first mass vaccination centre today.

Cathedrals join a number of suitably large public and private spaces to host mass vaccination centres, including rugby clubs, racecourses, community centres and office buildings.

Dean Papadopulos described the coming of the vaccine as “a real sign of hope for us at the end of this very, very difficult year”, and went on to say: “I doubt that anyone is having a jab in surroundings that are more beautiful than this so I hope it will ease people as they come into the building.”

Those receiving the jab echoed his remarks with former Flight Sergeant Louis Godwin saying: “I was so pleased to get it, especially in a setting like this.” 

Many have noted the appropriateness of Britain’s historic places of worship serving as vaccination centres; Lichfield for was a major pilgrimage site throughout the Middle Ages, with thousands visiting the burial site of St Chad of Mercia in search of the miraculous cures the saint was believed to perform.

Speaking about Lichfield Cathedral, the Dean, the Very Rev'd Adrian Dorber, pointed to this legacy: “Lichfield Cathedral has a long history, dating back to its mediaeval beginnings, of being a space of welcome and healing for the community. We pray every day for our nation and community, especially for healing the sick and protecting the vulnerable. It’s only right we offer the cathedral as a practical means for those prayers to be answered.”

Consecrated buildings were approved as potential vaccination centres by the Church of England in December of last year. In a briefing note the Church considered both the appropriateness of using places of worship for secular purposes, and the ethical status of the vaccine.

The note concurred with the judgement of the Pontifical Academy for Life and the English Bishops that taking a vaccine developed using aborted foetal material did not represent “co-operation” in the practice of abortion. Potential vaccination centres that are consecrated Church of England will still need to obtain a “faculty” from the relevant authorities to authorise this “secular” usage.

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