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Open Features: The Saddest Looking Church

...I often visit churches because they are such an important part of Britain's architectural heritage but I rarely donate money to renovation funds. This is despite the fact that I'm well aware that such old buildings cost thousands of dollars to run.

Seeing poor little St. Clement's gave me a bit of a shock, so I will be putting my hand in my pocket more often in future...

Claire is moved to thoughts of charity by a run-down church in the university city of Cambridge.

I left London and headed 50 minutes north to Cambridge, the Fenland home of one of the world's most famous universities. I know the city fairly well because I grew up 50 minutes further north in the market town of King's Lynn.

Cambridge is not simply a city for scholars and tourists; it is a major commercial centre for the people of eastern England. It has a large open market square, two undercover shopping centres, art galleries, souvenir shops and a whole flock of bookstores.

The river Cam, from which the city takes its name, runs behind the colleges through a pretty flower-filled area called the Backs.

The Cam can be enjoyed by hiring a flat wooden boat called a punt. Like gondolas in Venice, punts are propelled through the water by a person standing at the back with a long pole. (I have always resisted getting in one because I don't like the way they wobble about on the water!)

I thought that I had seen almost everything in Cambridge so I was surprised to stumble across the church of St. Clement, which is shared by the Greek Orthodox community and the Anglicans.

My pleasure soon turned to sadness when I saw how desperately the building is in need of major renovation work. Part of the church is barred to visitors because of the danger that the ceiling might fall on them and a fine looking painting on the back wall is black with dirt.

The Anglicans are Protestants and their practices vary somewhat from those of the Greek Orthodox Church, so I was intrigued to see how the space had been adapted. The most noticeable difference was the heavy smell of incense and the presence of a great many icons of Christ and various Christian saints. Despite the building's problems it is clearly a much loved and cared for holy space.

I asked some Greeks whether I was allowed to walk up to the back wall but they said that even they did not go up there. In an entirely Anglican church it is often the case that no part of the building is out of bounds.

I visited other church buildings in Cambridge and they were all in good condition. It left me wondering why some churches are luckier than others.

I often visit churches because they are such an important part of Britain's architectural heritage but I rarely donate money to renovation funds. This is despite the fact that I'm well aware that such old buildings cost thousands of dollars to run.

Seeing poor little St. Clement's gave me a bit of a shock, so I will be putting my hand in my pocket more often in future.

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