Life of genteel poverty inside swanky palaces

WHEN YOU see the fantastic palaces in which some bishops live it is easy to suppose the inhabitants are rich. The chance of becoming Archbishop of York and getting to live in Bishopthorpe Palace is surely one of the best arguments for Christian belief. Dr David Hope was almost certainly the bishop accused by a Sunday newspaper of spending more than pounds 160,000 last year. It made him seem like an example of Anglican extravagance. But he isn't.

The palace at Bishopthorpe has a staff of 15, so their average salary is about pounds 10,000. Bishops do have a better deal financially than priests in the Church of England - their salary is roughly double. But they live like doctors, not like lawyers and, when they retire, they come down with a bump.

At the top of the Church of England, you are in a world of privilege. I remember leaning on the battlements of Windsor Castle with an Old Etonian bishop, looking across to his old school, while tourists bustled beneath us. Not even God would have felt our social superior then. But this grandeur came with the job, and departed with it, too. When my friend retired, he remarked how odd it was to have to buy a house for the first time. The profits that others make from home ownership were not for him.

This is not to say that bishops are cheap to run. Nearly pounds 9m was spent on 113 bishops last year, which works out at about pounds 80,000 per bishop. But the figure is misleading, for it covers not just the bishops' salaries but also the salaries of their 250 staff. Since 50 of these employees are at Lambeth Palace and 15 more at Bishopthorpe, on average a bishop will have just one secretary and possibly one chaplain, neither of them very well paid.

The second reason that the figure is misleading is that it includes much of the pounds 2m cost of last year's Lambeth Conference, when 800 bishops from around the world spent three weeks in Canterbury. That was a lot of money to spend to give the bishop of Enugu in Nigeria a chance to exorcise, on live television, the general secretary of the lesbian and gay Christian movement. But it was probably an unrepeatable way for the church to waste money.

The outward splendours of the Church of England are impressive, but within the great stone buildings little touches of moderation are everywhere. The first time I dined with an Archbishop at his palace we drank Wine Society claret rather than anything grander.

Most of the grandest buildings of the church are uninsurable and unsaleable. Auckland Castle, where the Bishop of Durham lives, was built when the inhabitants were powerful figures on a lawless frontier. Until 1832, the bishop had a private army to keep out the Scots. In those days, too, the Archbishop of Canterbury had an income of pounds 19,000 a year, equivalent to several million pounds today. Nowadays the family of the Bishop of Durham huddle in one wing of the castle. If the Church could sell the rest it would. But who would buy it?

The Sunday newspaper said that the Bishop of Salisbury had hosted an Easter champagne breakfast. It didn't mention it was a fund-raising event, for which pounds 2.50 tickets were sold. I bet the champagne was rotten too.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity to...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Manager - Production

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Managers are required to join the UK's...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss