Monday, June 28, 2004

English Martyr's Shrine at Tyburn Faces Closure

One of Britain's most important Roman Catholic shrines faces closure unless it can raise £400,000 to pay for lifts and ramps for disabled visitors.

The Benedictine nuns at Tyburn Convent in central London - where the crypt houses the remains of Reformation martyrs - have until October 1 to find the funds to comply with new disability laws.

Eminent religious historians last night described the closure threat to the crypt as "immoral and absurd".

The crypt at the convent - the mother house of the order of the Adorers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus - contains the relics of 105 Roman Catholic martyrs executed at Tyburn field under Reformation laws between 1535 and 1681. The crypt is open for daily public tours but is inaccessible for disabled visitors.

The nuns must provide lifts and ramps before additions to the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act come into force on October 1.

Under the revised Act, all buildings that provide "goods, facilities or services" to the public must have the same "access, use and exit" for the disabled as the able-bodied. Any business or organisation failing in its responsibilities could face prosecution.

The convent is an oasis of prayer and silence a few hundred yards from the traffic and bustle of Marble Arch. It was the site of "The King's Gallows" from 1196 to 1783.

More here.

I had much to do with ensuring compliance with the American version of this law, the Americans with Disabilities Act or "ADA" in the company I worked for at the time of its passage. I acquired two apparently contradictory sentiments: a hearty distaste and even contempt for the glassy-eyed fanatics who came up with this piece of legislation and a new appreciation of the obstacles the disabled face in ordinary life, including a sense of the need for something very like the ADA. The ADA has perpetrated a some injustices and even a few lunacies. (Perhaps you've seen the braille on the drive-through-only teller windows?) But it's also made negotiating every day life a bit more managable for those who already have a fairly difficult time of it.

I rather think the nuns would have a very good chance of success in the U.S. with the "impossibilty" or extreme difficulty argument. I hope it succeeds in Britain.


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