Collection

Ever since Jesus expelled the money changers from the Temple, the commercialisation of religious buildings has had a bad rep. We might wonder what he would have made of the recent move by the Church of England to allow contactless payments in the aisles of 16,000 churches. In reality, however, religion and commerce have been close bed-fellows and as congregations decline, this is likely to increase. The vaults of old St Paul’s Cathedral were for many years leased to booksellers and printers (contributing to its destruction by fire in 1666). More recently, new St Paul’s (admission: £18) and other globally renowned religious buildings have drawn significant amounts of tourism spend. It helps if you can find a dead king or two to pull in the crowds (Leicester Cathedral), but most popular has been the introduction of cafes (e.g. Liverpool Cathedral) and coffee shops (St Mary Aldermary in the City). The ripple effect in the latter is quite incredible. On a recent lunchtime visit, the aisles of the church were fully occupied by people eating their lunch (bought from various takeaways in the area), essentially converting the church into a foodhall. In an era of declining religion and community, reinstating these buildings to act as hubs for congregation is surely a noble ambition reflective of their original purpose, and if they can make a few bucks along the way, all the better.