Parishioners have expressed concern over the growing cost of being a worshipper at a famous Belfast church following a steep rise in the price of weddings and prayer candles.
Church leaders at St Patrick’s Parish have been criticised for introducing a £150 flat rate fee for couples seeking to get married in the 140-year-old iconic building, a move which comes just three months after the cost of candles more than doubled from 20p to 50p.
Fr Eugene O’Neill announced a multi-million pound scheme to “refresh the fabric” of the Donegall Street building earlier this year, and now church members fear the elderly are being forced to help foot the bill.
“When we first heard about it we couldn’t believe it, especially after everything else going up, like the candles,” one parishioner told the North Belfast News. “It’s mostly pensioners lighting them and if they have
a large number of grandkids, it will cost them a lot of money.”
Another member of the congregation complained that the hefty wedding fee “for people who have lived in the parish their whole lives is too much”.
Parishioners first felt the pinch several years ago when the cost of placing an urn in the church’s columbarium increased from £800 to £900.
But the church has defended the significant hike in prices which it claims is necessary to pay for the £2m restoration project already underway.
“The running costs of St Patrick’s are over £500 a day and over the past few years we have had to raise funds to address these issues. All the changes are appropriate and commensurate to the work,” a spokesperson for Down and Connor Diocese said.
“St Patrick’s is a very important parish in the heart of the city and it is important to maintain it so that it remains accessible to the people of the parish and the wider city.
“We understand these measures are difficult but it’s important for the proper management of the church.”
The minimum 50p cost of a prayer candle is in stark contrast to the price at the nearby Anglican parish where they cost as little as a penny. A church official at St George’s Church on High Street confirmed prayer candles can be obtained for a donation “based on what people can afford”.
“It could be a penny or it could be a pound, whatever your conscience allows,” they added.
The price of a lighting a candle in St Mary’s, the city’s oldest Catholic parish, is 20p.
Neither church was able to confirm the cost of a wedding, citing “individual particulars” as factors which affect the price tag.
Traditionally the fee has been determined by the bride and groom who are expected to deliver a cash envelope to the officiating clergyman following the ceremony. St Patrick’s Church declined to comment on the fee.