I visited Durham this weekend when the Lumiere Festival was on. The four day festival has artworks made from light that transform the landmarks, streets, river and bridges of the city. It included Ross Ashton’s Crown of Light shown on the exterior of the Cathedral.
Of course I spent a lot of time in the Cathedral described as ‘one of the great architectural experiences of Europe’ with its architecture going back to 1093. It is a magnificent building with so much history and artwork within its walls even discounting that linked to the festival.
Unlike some of our historic cathedrals, Durham does not charge tourists and those visiting for none religious purposes. However there is a suggested visitors’ donation of £5. Where I have seen this protocol before the donations have been for a Trust linked to the upkeep of the building or specified for building maintenance and I have usually contributed. However at Durham it said, “Donations are hugely important to the Cathedral's future. It is thanks to the generosity of people who love Durham Cathedral that we are able to protect its heritage and support its mission.”
To my mind my money would have gone to the general work of what was a religious institution rather than for the conservation of a building at the centre of a World Heritage Site. I did not donate.
What would others have done?
I think I would have done the same as you and not donated. I'm a huge admirer of architecture. I've always said, if there's one good thing about religion, it's the building of those amazing temples, mosques, churches, cathedrals, ect. They really are great historical works of art to me. If I could be sure the money was for the purpose of preserving them I would gladly donate, but definitely not if the money went to support a mission that I don't see any social benefit in.