NEW: Cathedral officials say it will reopen Friday after safety concerns were met
Giles Fraser had been supportive of the protest camp outside St. Paul's
Occupy London protesters set up a tent camp outside St. Paul's 12 days ago
A senior figure at London’s landmark St. Paul’s Cathedral stepped down Thursday, apparently over concerns that it planned to evict anti-capitalist protesters camped outside.
Canon Chancellor Giles Fraser had been supportive of the Occupy London Stock Exchange protest camp, the presence of which led the cathedral to close its doors last week for the first time in decades.
“It is with great regret and sadness that I have handed in my notice at St. Paul’s Cathedral,” Fraser said on Twitter Thursday, but did not give a reason why.
However, he told the London Evening Standard newspaper he was stepping down from a post he had held since 2009 because he believed the cathedral was set on a course of action that “may lead to violence.”
The Dean of St. Paul’s, the Right Rev. Graeme Knowles, said the cathedral would be “very sorry to see him go” but did not elaborate on his decision.
Cathedral leaders announced Thursday that St. Paul’s, a major tourist attraction and historic center of worship in the heart of London’s financial district, will reopen Friday with a service at 12:30 p.m.
A statement on the Occupy London website said the protesters were “deeply moved” by Fraser’s resignation.
“From the moment Occupy London arrived at St. Paul’s Churchyard he respected our right to protest and defended it,” it said.
“For that we are very grateful, as he ensured that St. Paul’s could be a sanctuary for us and that no violence could take place against peaceful protesters with a legitimate cause – challenging and tackling social and economic injustice in London, the UK and beyond.”
Knowles said Wednesday that changes had been made to the way the tent city, which sprang up outside 12 days ago, was laid out, giving better access.
“The staff team here have been working flat out with the police, fire brigade and health and safety officers to try to ensure that we have confidence in the safety of our worshippers, visitors and staff which will allow us to reopen,” he said in a statement.
Knowles said St. Paul’s believed in the right to peaceful protest but had asked the protesters to move on peacefully. It was consulting lawyers on measures it could take, including court action, he said.
Last Friday, the dean said the cathedral, which normally welcomes thousands of visitors each day, would be closed until further notice because of “practical and safety issues,” including a fire risk from stoves used by those camping out.
The Evening Standard quoted London Mayor Boris Johnson Thursday as calling for new laws to prevent tent cities “erupting like boils” across London, and telling the activists: “In the name of God and Mammon, go.”
Speaking to London’s LBC Radio, the mayor said he supported the right to protest in the city but that it was time to think about the damage the Occupy camp was doing to businesses and worship at the cathedral, as well as London’s economy.
A separate piece written by the Bishop of London, Dr. Richard Chartres, for the Evening Standard said the reopening of St. Paul’s would be a victory for common sense.
He urged the protesters to disband, saying their original message had been all but lost amid media reports on other aspects of the protest. St. Paul’s would organize a debate on the issue if they left peacefully, he offered.
St. Paul’s Cathedral, designed by architect Sir Christopher Wren, was built between 1675 and 1710. A church has stood on the site near the banks of the River Thames for more than 1,400 years.