A man pulled-down his trousers and damaged a crucifix on the altar of Exeter Cathedral after placing £20 on a donation box, a court has heard.
Nicholas Courtney, 34, of Smythen Street, entered the historic building on Saturday afternoon and shouted ‘anti-religious’ language within earshot of staff and visitors.
City magistrates heard he went up to the high altar and climbed on top of it – sending candlesticks crashing to the floor and damaging a crucifix as he leapt down to the ground.
In a police interview Courtney said he felt “something bad was about to happen” and he “lost it”.
Miss Katherine Todd, defending, told the court: “He is absolutely horrified by what he has done.”
She added that her client was “extremely sorry” and would do anything he could to turn the clock back.
Alison Davenport, the cathedral’s managing director, described the incident as “out of the ordinary”.
She said: “It was an unfortunate and unpleasant episode. We wouldn’t normally expect someone to climb onto the main altar. But our staff dealt with it effectively to minimise the impact. Although there was some damage to furnishings, including two wooden candles, it could have been a lot worse.”
A 70-year-old woman was then left with a black eye and a broken wrist after apparently being struck in the face by a “complete stranger” on Exeter Cathedral Green at around 1.15pm.
She was treated by paramedics following the attack before being taken to hospital.
Police and security staff from the Guildhall arrived on the scene as members of the public enjoyed the normally peaceful surroundings.
Courtney was arrested and charged with causing criminal damage and grievous bodily harm.
A police spokesman said: “The male offender entered the cathedral by the main gate. He shouted an anti-religious comment before running through the building and jumping onto the high altar. He knocked over two wooden and brass candles and damaged the main crucifix. The damage was around £500 to all three items.
“A woman aged 70 was then punched in the face by a complete stranger. She suffered a severe black eye and a broken wrist.”
Courtney admitted causing criminal damage, but did not enter a plea to assault when he appeared at Exeter Magistrates' Court on Monday.
He was remanded in custody to be sentenced on 20 March at Exeter Crown Court.