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Priest condemns selfie-taking tourists disturbing worshippers

A senior priest at England’s most-visited parish church has condemned “disrespectful” tourists who enter simply to take selfies.

Worshippers have found themselves surrounded by groups of visitors posing for photos just feet from where they are praying.

Officials have now stepped in to try and prevent tourists encroaching on people’s sacred space to take pictures.

More than 400,000 tourists from across the world visit The University Church of St Mary the Virgin, in Oxford, every year.

But in a recent newsletter, associate priest Rev Charlotte Bannister-Parker said the historic church had seen an increase in the number of selfie-obsessed tourists.

Rev Bannister-Parker, daughter of the first four-minute mile runner Sir Roger Bannister, urged tourists to challenge the mentality that “if you don’t take a photo it did not happen”.

She wrote: “I am not usually a grumpy person, but I have been overwhelmed by the numbers of tourists coming through the church and the fact that so many of them seem unaware that this is a sacred space.

“Not only is the whole experience of visiting St Mary’s so often seen through a camera lens, but also some visitors seem completely unaware of the difference between this space as ‘the House of God’ and, say, that of the Sheldonian.”

Australian tourist Graham Campbell, visiting with wife Monica Campbell, said: “I think it’s quite right that tourists inside the church should show respect to people who are worshipping.”

The Rev Dr William Lamb, vicar of the church, stressed that everyone was welcome, including tourists.

He said: “We want to encourage visitors to come to St Mary’s and to ensure that they have the best possible experience. This ministry of hospitality is an important part of our mission as a church.

“At the same time, we are also aware that the sheer volume of visitors and tourists sometimes detracts from the peace and tranquility offered by the University Church.”

Ideas being considered to tackle the problem include playing music quietly in the background and inviting visitors to join in with prayers.

He also suggested that some areas of the church could be reserved for private prayer, while staff could liaise with tour guides to ensure that numbers in each tour group were limited.

A church has stood on the same site since 1086 and, in the early days of Oxford University, the church was adopted as the first building of the university.

St Mary’s was the site of the 1555 trial of the Oxford Martyrs, when the bishops Latimer and Ridley and the Archbishop Cranmer, were tried for heresy.

It is free to enter the church, but there is a £4 charge for adults to climb the 13th century tower, which provides a good view of the city’s famous dreaming spires.

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