Britain’s most visited parish church, home to Shakespeare’s grave, could be forced to close for health and safety reasons.
Holy Trinity Church, in Stratford-upon-Avon, needs £2.5 million to carry out repairs and restorations.
Its next project, costing £400,000, is to fix its crumbling clerestory windows, which date back to the 1490s.
If the work on the stone holding the window glass in place above the congregation is not carried out, the church could have to shut its doors to its 250,000 visitors a year.
Reverend Martin Gorick, the church’s vicar, said: “If we don’t attend to the windows, we are probably only five years off from having to close the church, from a safety point of view.
“We are determined that won’t be the case.”
Building began on the church in 1210 and it has great historical significance, as William Shakespeare was baptised there, served as its lay rector, and is buried in the chancel.
The church’s exterior has changed little since the playwright’s time but its soft limestone has eroded dramatically in places.
“The stone has really worn away and needs quite major repair,” said Mr Gorick, describing the windows.
“It’s just had 500 years of weathering so eventually it just turns to powder. I’ve had
a good poke around with the architect and I can confirm the work on the windows does need doing.”
The church raises some money from visitors’ donations but pays for the bulk of the restoration work by fundraising.
It receives no Government funding, a situation which Mr Gorick said points to the wider issue of a “looming heritage crisis” over the state of our churches.
“From our congregations we raise the costs of ministry – the costs of the living church,” he said.
“We raised £120,000 last year for that, but that £120,000 is before we’ve done any restoration of the church.”
If the money to maintain the church could not be found, he said: “What would happen?
“Would they just let it fall down?”
Few parish churches enjoy such a high profile as Holy Trinity, but there are 14,500 places of worship in England listed for their special architectural or historic interest.
The Church of England owns and maintains most of these, each year spending £110 million on repairs, with 70 per cent of the money raised by congregations and communities.