Fergus Butler-Gallie suggest some other ecclesiastical-themed breaks that could also come with a hefty price tag


Source: Cefoto / Alamy Stock Photo

This week Canterbury Cathedral, the mother church of Anglicanism, publicised that it is offering the chance to spend Holy Week - the holiest, most serious part of Lent, when Christians traditionally fast, give money to the poor and seek forgiveness for their sins - at a “luxury” four-night retreat.

Featuring “sumptuous three-course dinners” and the possibility of “special access” to Most Rev Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, himself, the “exclusive” and “intimate gathering” costs an alms-busting £950 per head.

It doesn’t sound very serious and, although Lent is a serious time in the Church calendar, it made me think. Here are some alternative religious-themed retreats in the same, presumably unserious, vein, that draw on the Church of England’s past:

The Thomas Becket Luxury Spa Day

Who will rid you of your troublesome feet? Let our handpicked team of Northern French experts pamper you with a range of luxury treatments including their now infamous exfoliating brain scrub. Please bring your own flip-flops as our floors can get slippery.

Cost: enshrining the benefit of clergy in English Law plus attendance at one crusade.

The Saint Alphege of Canterbury Outdoor Activities Weekend

Join a band of Scandinavian outdoor living enthusiasts in a tour along the north Kent coast. The highlight of this invigorating weekend is an organised ox bone and axe throwing event involving exclusive interactions with the Archbishop of Canterbury himself. Perfect for stag dos or people who wear North Face clothing unironically.

Cost: the monk Osbern reports a ransom in excess of 3,000 gold marks

Exclusive Pre-Reformation Monastic Retreat

Stay for a luxurious weekend among the residents of one of the nation’s wealthiest abbeys. Enjoy your vows of poverty, chastity and obedience amidst an atmosphere of the very finest food and drink available, with sumptuous surroundings and 24/7 nun access.

Cost: tithes totalling thousands of pounds in today’s money

(Guests attending this retreat must sign a waiver in the event of a visit by the Vicegerent in Spirituals)

If you haven’t got £950 to spare, then find your local parish church and join them

Henrician Blind Date Evening

One for the singles! Take advantage of the skills of our top team of love experts to find the perfect spouse: international matchmaker, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, artist Hans Holbein, and legal eagle Thomas More (agreement pending). Let’s hope you’ll be going home ‘head’ over heels with someone. NB: The organisers are not responsible for the accuracy of any 16th century portraiture, nor for the ability of your match to produce a viable male heir.

Cost: the unity of Western Christendom

Cromwellian Stress Buster Day

A perfect corporate retreat for high powered executives. Join a group of fanatical devotees for the ultimate stress busting day. Take out all your corporate insecurities on a selection of stained glass, ornate rood screens or delicately carved statues. Rocks and hammers will be provided.

Cost: the English Constitution

Oxford Movement Detox Weekend

Are you suffering from the effects of low energy latitudinarianism? Join a group of Oxford educated experts, all well versed in the latest continental de-stressing techniques for the ultimate in reinvigoration and refreshment. Through a mix of fasting, incense inhalation and targeted physical activity such as genuflection, you too can feel positively revived.

Cost: several Hail Marys.

Free to love

There is, however, an alternative to all this silliness, both imagined and unimagined.

Across the Church this Lent and in Holy Week, its people and priests will speak of the cross. They will point to it and seek to follow in the footsteps of its way. If you haven’t got £950 to spare, then find your local parish church and join them as they do so.

In fact, even if you have got the best part of a grand to spare, do it anyway. Why? Well, the journey to the cross is the ultimate Lenten retreat. Exclusive: because his disciples had fled, leaving God himself to die nailed to a piece of wood upon a lonely hill. Sumptuous: because it speaks so deeply of the rich love of God that he gave his only begotten son to be one with us, to be born and to die and to rise again for us.

However, the price for us of this grace, is free.