The odd couple: The cathedral and a 55ft helter skelter

cathedral helter skelter
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As part of the Seeing it Differently project, Norwich Cathedral has installed a full-size helter skelter in its West End Nave, allowing visitors to view the ornate roof bosses otherwise out of reach.


A 55ft tall helter skelter has been installed inside Norwich Cathedral, in order to give visitors a close look at the 12th century building’s world-famed medieval roof bosses.

Built as part of the church’s Seeing It Differently project and provided by Irvin Leisure, the iconic Lighthouse model will give riders an enviable view of the 69ft roof – and a unique slide experience – until 18 August.

“Norwich Cathedral is definitely one of the most unusual places we have been to, even though we have taken it all over the world,” said Irvin Leisure spokesman Henry Chipperfield.

“As far as I know it is the first time a helter skelter has ever been in a cathedral.”

The installation allows those on the tower’s 40ft viewing platform to see in detail the cathedral’s 1,000 15th century roof bosses depicting stories from the Bible, which are located where the ribs of the cathedral roof join.

The idea for the helter skelter came after Reverend Canon Andy Bryant visited the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican, which prompted the priest to declare “the ceiling at Norwich Cathedral is every bit as wonderful.”

“We have one of the greatest collections of medieval roof bosses anywhere in northern Europe. The trouble is they are so high up.”

The Seeing it Differently initiative aims to see visitors experiencing the landmark in new ways, including a canvas labyrinth in the North Transept, Nave tours and a Blind Trail in the Cloister Garth.

‘We all are always looking to broaden the appeal of our cathedrals,” said reverend canon Andy Bryant. “Some people can feel that cathedrals are slightly exclusive, they’re for a particular type of person – we want everybody to feel that they can come in and enjoy it.”

However, not everybody was thrilled with the prospect of broadening the cathedral’s appeal, with bishop Gavin Ashenden stating that for the cathedral “to buy in to sensory pleasure and distraction, is to poison the very medicine it offers the human soul.”

Undeterred, Bryant observed “we can take risks like this as we know who we are, we know what we’re rooted in, we know about our faith.”

But not everyone is happy with the all-embracing concept. “This is fun, you do it outside in the churchyard, not in the church,” visitor Greetja Boedeltja told the Metro. “It’s not respectful.”

Oh dear: Greetja was a bit of grumpy when it came to the helter skelter. “I don’t mind children shouting, I don’t mind people singing, this is something that should be on a fairground, on Cromer pier.”

As they say Greetja, God moves in mysterious ways.

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