Anyone who knows me well will tell you I’m not remotely religious – what you believe is entirely up to you so long as you don’t try to sell it to others – but I regard the churches of London as among its greatest treasures. And one of the pleasures of visiting a new city is to see its churches – for me the most astonishing (apart from the agoraphobia-inducing Vatican) must be the mosque and cathedral of Cordoba, one tucked inside the other in harmony. Churches are intended as sites of salvation and sanctuary, which makes it all the more appalling that St Paul’s Cathedral charges an eye-watering £15 to enter, although it sets aside a free area for worshippers.
Since March 1st of this year, the Temple Church, one of London’s oldest, dating from 1185 (Henry II is said to have been at the consecration) has been charging £3 to enter just because Dan Brown’s trashy potboiler brought tourists to the site. They have provided a cynical little space for worshippers, carefully arranged near the door where they can’t properly see in. Am I the only one who finds this incredibly offensive?
If the heavily visited urban churches are in need of repair, they can dig into their bulging coffers – but the Temple Church is very nicely renovated (too much so) and does not appear to need the money. The commodification of religion began with church shops but is taken a new step with entry charges; many are already rented out for book launches and other media events. Perhaps it’s time to go the whole hog and turn them into nightclubs.