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WINCHESTER, UK: Bishop accused of cashing in on the 'Da Vinci heresy'

WINCHESTER, UK: Bishop accused of cashing in on the 'Da Vinci heresy'

by Chris Hastings, Arts and Media Editor


The Archbishop of Canterbury condemned it in his Easter address and its story undermines basic tenets of the Christian faith.

But The Da Vinci Code has now found sanctuary - glorification even - within the walls of one of England's oldest Anglican cathedrals and today Winchester Cathedral will shun the controversy surrounding the novel and begin a three-month programme of events taking advantage of its huge commercial success.

Beyond The Da Vinci Code will utilise cathedral premises and draw upon the talents of some of the diocese's leading figures, including the Rt Rev Michael Scott-Joynt, the Bishop of Winchester.

The 11th-century cathedral's decision to celebrate the success of the ecclesiastical thriller will infuriate many Christians who regard its plot, based around a global Christian conspiracy, as heretical and offensive.

One leading evangelical last night accused the cathedral of trying "to cash in" on the book's success.

Dan Brown's novel, which has sold more than 40 million copies worldwide, tells a story of attempts by the Church to suppress the truth of Christ's marriage to Mary Magdalene and his fathering of a royal bloodline.

Last year, Westminster Abbey, which features in the story, refused to open its doors to the producers of a new £40 million Hollywood adaptation of the book, starring Tom Hanks and Sir Ian McKellen, because it thought the subject matter unsuitable.

The film is released next month.

Dr Rowan Williams also publicly criticised the "cynicism and wordly wisdom" of the novel in his Easter sermon.

"Think of the massive international industry around The Da Vinci Code: it's exciting to think of conspiracies and cover-ups when trust in traditional institutions is low.

"But here's the problem. We are familiar with the world of cover-up stories; we're on safer ground with their cynicism and wordly wisdom.

"They are less challenging and don't involve us in confronting difficult realities. And like any kind of cynicism they stop us hearing anything new or surprising."

In defiance of this criticism, the diocese of Winchester, which stood in for Westminster Abbey in the film, is going out of its way to celebrate the book's success.

The painting The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci, which is integral to the book's plot, is emblazoned across publicity material for the programme of events.

One leaflet states: "Visit Winchester Cathedral's Summer exhibition to discover more about Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, part of which was filmed in the cathedral, and about the holy mystery beyond this story for our time.

"We want to offer the opportunity to make your own mind up on The Da Vinci Code, to learn about some of the mistakes in the novel as well as some of the Church's actions down the ages, and to understand more about the great spiritual mystery lying at the heart of Christian belief."

The cathedral, which is using some of the £20,000 earned from the film to pay for the exhibition, hopes to attract tens of thousands of visitors who would not normally enter a church.

Visitors who pay the standard £4 admission fee will be able to enjoy a special exhibition, in addition to a selection of themed tours, one of which will highlight symbols and treasures in the cathedral that also appear in the book.

The cathedral has also organised a special Da Vinci Code treasure hunt for children.

Senior diocesan figures, including the bishop, the Rev Roland Riem, the Canon Pastor and Missioner of Winchester Cathedral, and Prof Michael Wheeler, the Lay Canon and member of Chapter, are all involved in a programme of talks at Winchester College.

The Ven John Guille, the Archdeacon of Winchester, defended the event, which he said was a way of tackling the myths in Brown's book.

"It is all about meeting people where they are at. A lot of people have taken Dan Brown's book to heart. They have told parochial clergy that they believe a lot of what the book says.

"We are not setting out to denigrate the book because we believe that criticism will fall on deaf ears. We are saying to people you are mature, make up your own mind."

John Roberts, the president of the Lord's Day Observance Society, said: "This is further proof that the Church of England is in disarray. I think the Church will do anything to make extra money.

"Of course the book is a huge success, but it is a misleading success and the Church is wrong to jump on the bandwagon like this."

Worshippers at Winchester Cathedral will be given a private view of the exhibition today.

The event, which opens to the general public tomorrow, will run until Friday, July 21. Last night a spokesman for the Archbishop of Canterbury said: "This sounds very imaginative - no one can deny the popularity of the book.

"If this is an attempt to use that as a teaching opportunity, all well and good. We should seize every teaching opportunity we can."


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