Anglican cathedrals could be forced to charge for entry or face closure, amid dwindling public funding and expensive running costs.
Financial crisis is threatening the future of half of England's Anglican cathedrals, the chairman of a new working group has warned.
Currently just nine of the 42 cathedrals charge for entry, but that could change amid severe financial difficulties.
Adrian Newman, the bishop of Stepney, said cathedrals are facing a "new scale and depth" of challenge in their bid to stay afloat.
“My finger-in-the-wind estimate is that perhaps half of cathedrals are facing some significant financial challenges, although pretty much all of them are planning on how they’re going to get through that," he told the Guardian.
"Although it seems unimaginable, it is possible to imagine a situation where an individual cathedral could get into a situation so desperate that there is no obvious solution.”
Mr Newman is leading the Church of England's working group to address how cathedrals raise funds. Currently each of the country's 42 Anglican diocesan cathedrals operate independently of the Church of England, and are run by their own dean and chapter.
But despite increasing numbers of visitors, cathedrals have struggled to raise revenue.
Cathedrals that ask for a donation instead of charging for entry are financially worse off, according to the vice-chairman of the working group, the Very Rev Vivienne Faull.
However she has previously rejected the idea of unilaterally imposing an admission fee across all cathedrals.
Westminster Abbey charges £20 for an adult ticket, with most of its visitors being foreign tourists.
In contrast Durham Cathedral does not charge entry, and receives £150,000 in donations from its 750,000 annual visitors - an average of just 20p.
Its dean does not intend to introduce a charge, but the chapter is operating a permanent exhibition which costs £7.50 to visit, as a way to raise funds.
The working group was established following a formal investigation into the management of Peterborough Cathedral earlier this year after a "cash flow crisis".
Its bishop the Right Reverend Donald Allister said at the time: "The Peterborough situation has convinced me that the high degree of independence currently enjoyed by Cathedrals poses serious risks to the reputation of the whole Church, and thus to our effectiveness in mission."
In February the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said that Britain's cathedrals were not "too big to fail", after the Church of England declined to rescue Guildford Cathedral from financial collapse.
He said cathedrals are independent bodies and could not rely on external help, writing in a letter to the council: "It is sometimes said that cathedrals are the Church of England’s equivalent of the big banks - ‘too big to fail’ - and that the very serious financial straits that are one of the motivating factors for Guildford pursuing this application are not so serious because the central church would ‘rescue’ them before total collapse. This is not the case."
Guildford Cathedral is haemorrhaging £100,000 a year and suffered a blow when the local council rejected plans for a housing development on its land that would have raised £10 million.
It costs £3,500 a day to keep the cathedral running, but the average visitor donates just 35p.
However the Guildford Cathedral's dean, Dianna Gwilliams, has said the are not planning for closure.
Cathedral deans will meet this week to discuss concerns about the cost of maintaining the buildings.
The Cathedrals Working Group is expected to report on its findings in December.