October 21st, 2011
06:32 PM ET
By Dan Merica, CNN
(CNN) – Citing “practical and safety issues,” the dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London announced Friday that the historic cathedral will be closed “until further notice” because of the growing number of Occupy London protesters camping in the shadows of its dome.
Though the Right Rev. Graeme Knowles said he was delighted that the London protests have been peaceful, he indicated in a news release that closing the church was his only “lawful” option.
“The Health, Safety and Fire officers have pointed out that access to and from the Cathedral is seriously limited,” he said. “With so many stoves and fires and lots of different types of fuel around, there is a clear fire hazard.”
The announcement marks the first time the cathedral has closed its doors since its 365-foot-high dome was damaged in World War II.
The cathedral has played a role in some of London’s most historic moments. Former Prime Minister Winston Churchill, realizing that its destruction would demoralize the city, insisted that the church be a top priority during World War II. On a lighter note, St. Paul’s is the church where Prince Charles married Princess Diana on July 29, 1981.
Knowles notified protesters of his decision to close the church in an open letter. After calling the protests “significant in voicing the problem,” Knowles asked the protesters to move.
“I am therefore appealing to you directly to recognize that a great deal had been achieved by your presence here outside St Paul’s but that, in order that we might re-open the Cathedral as speedily as possible, we ask you to withdraw peacefully,” he wrote.
Knowles and cathedral staff had met with protesters before the decision was made, and the letter concluded with his promise to continue the discussion.
“In the meantime,” concluded Knowles, “by withdrawing peacefully, you will enable us to re-open the Cathedral for people to use for prayer, worship and reflection as soon as we possibly can.”
Protesters started gathering in front of St. Paul’s last weekend after their attempts to occupy the London Stock Exchange failed.
Like many others who have demonstrated around the world in recent weeks, the group was inspired by the actions of the Occupy Wall Street movement in the United States, which took to the street of New York more than a month ago.
According to organizers in New York, protests are planned or have taken place in 950 cities in 82 countries. Cities like Rome, Paris, Sydney, Hong Kong and Tokyo, just to name a few, have all seen large protests.
Protester Bryn Phillips said Tuesday that Occupy London was a solidarity movement hoping to start a global democracy. “Government by the people, for the people, not by governments acting for the big banks," he said.
Asked what those demands are, Phillips reeled off a list that veered from the idealistic to the humorous. His friend, artist and fellow protester Laura May said it "sounds like a Christmas wish list.”
As to when the protesters would be packing up, Phillips kept it simple.
"We're staying forever,” Phillips said. “We're staying until our demands are met.”
CNN’s Bryony Jones contributed to this report.
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