York Minster became the latest of Britain's medieval cathedrals to introduce a compulsory entry fee for visitors yesterday after its senior clergy admitted they were facing a financial crisis.
The Archbishop of York, Dr David Hope, confirmed that the tills will be ringing inside northern Europe's largest Gothic cathedral this summer with tourists having to pay £4.50.
Dr Hope, the second most senior prelate in the Church of England, at first opposed the charge but said he had "reluctantly" decided it was necessary in order to reduce a £550,000 annual deficit. The fee could earn the minster as much as £6m a year.
However, campaigners criticised the move, saying it risked turning the cathedral into a historical leisure venue akin to a museum rather than a place of worship.
Tom Sutcliffe, a lay member of the General Synod, who last year sought a motion banning entrance charges, said: "This is a retrograde step which makes the business of cathedrals into a kind of entertainment. Someone paying money to enter a cathedral is going to feel like they are entering some sort of private museum."
Dr Hope said that falling income from York Minster's investments on the stock market and rising costs had forced him to accept the proposal of its governing body, the Chapter, to impose the fee from 2 August. He denied claims that the hole in the finances had been caused by financial mismanagement, including perks such as £400 annual memberships to a gentlemen's club in London.
The cathedral authorities said they had decided on the compulsory fee after an attempt to extract a voluntary donation of £3.50 garnered an average of 40p per person.