St Paul's Cathedral is facing a financial crisis amid fears that a lack of tourists could force its doors to close and its choir to disband.
The London cathedral – which relies almost entirely on income from tourist ticket sales – has had its finances devastated by the pandemic. Income fell by 90 per cent last year, with a similar decline so far this year.
The Very Rev Dr David Ison, the Dean of St Paul's, the told The Telegraph: "If we can't get money and resources in the long term, then we would have to close. What else can you do [in terms of having a building that is empty]?
"Obviously we're working as hard as we can to make sure we do have the money and we're reasonably stable for the next couple of years – depending on what happens with the recovery in the tourism market, which is where our income has come from for the last 40 years.
"The reality is that as church incomes fall and the number of worshippers reduces, then their ability to maintain thousands of Grade I-listed buildings decreases. There needs to be a much wider social discussion about how we're going to maintain these buildings. In the years to come, the ability of the Church of England to do it is going to be more and more stretched."
Visitors accounted for 90 per cent of income at St Paul's before the Covid crisis. In 2019, this stood at £13.4 million – but last year it fell to £2.25 million, most of which came in the first three months. While the cathedral received £3.3 million from the government's £1.57 billion culture recovery fund, its annual running costs are £8 million.
Nearly all its reserves have been spent, and although some staff have been furloughed a restructure has seen almost 25 per cent made redundant.
Asked whether cathedrals are under imminent threat of closure in the current economic climate, the Very Rev Dr Ison said: "Not immediately, but this is raising a question about what happens in the medium to long term and it's something we need to be aware of and think about how we act going forward."
The comments come amid fears that the internationally renowned St Paul's Cathedral choir could also be at risk. The choir – consisting of 30 choirboys and 12 adults – has existed since the 13th century, but the cost of continuing to pay for the adult singers is in question.
Andrew Carwood, the St Paul's director of music, told the BBC: "We have to plan and it's irresponsible for me not to consider all the options, but I'm going to do everything in my power and I know that the cathedral is here to make sure we find an answer to the problem we face."