Thursday, 17 December 2015


In our village a building that proudly declares itself to be the Methodist Sunday School is in fact divided into flats. What used to be the vicarage just a short distance up the road from our house was long ago sold off for private housing and an extension was built so that it could become two decent -sized dwellings. In the other direction, just over a mile away a former church has become a conference centre. 

This sort of thing is happening all over the country. Congregations are melting away and churches are standing empty, often for so long that they begin to fall apart at the seams. I have no right to protest about this as I am one of the great multitude who do not set foot inside a church from one year to the next unless, in my case, the building is particularly interesting. But even though I no longer believe in the central ideas of the Church, I still feel it is a shame when a fine old church is left to crumble into dust. So we should feel glad about the ones the ones that are converted into a different kind of building for a new purpose altogether. 

For some reason I thought this problem of the abandoned churches was a singularly British one but I seem to be mistaken. It also exists in a catholic country like Spain. 

The small town of Llanera, not far from Madrid has a church which dates back 100 years. It was built in 1912 when the vast majority of the men of the town worked in a nearby munitions factory. As you would expect of that period, the church was central to the life of the community. Then at the end of the Spanish Civil War, in 1939, the munitions factory closed, people found other occupations, probably moved away and the church fell onto disuse. For decades it stood empty. 

Then along came a chap called Ernesto Fern├índez Rey, who wanted to set up business in the premises. "La crisis" put paid to that idea. It was just not the time for new enterprises. Eventually he decided he might use the place to indulge his love of skateboarding and make a kind of indoor park. Together with some friends he set to work raising funds and for five years now the church has been an indoor skateboarding park. 

Then a Madrid street artist Okuda San Miguel found out about it, saw a photo and decided he wanted to do something more with the building. So he asked if he could paint murals in the building. And this is the result. 

"It's like my personal Sistine Chapel," he said. And who knows, if the Sistine Chapel were being painted now, whether it might not end up a little bit like this. 

Still in Madrid, an organisation has persuaded a church to change the figures of Mary Joseph and Jesus in the nativity scene they have set up this year. Baby Jesus was based on the figure of the little Syrian boy whose body was washed up on a beach and Mary and Joseph on his parents. Here is a link to a short article about it.

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