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Tuesday, May 31, 2005 

I'll have a pint and some jazz with my God please

#36: Cafes in Crypts.

We in the states take our religion very seriously. Which is pretty ironic really, seeing everything that the Church of England has been through to become what it is. Maybe because we've never had to struggle for it, we take it all too literally. We came to America for religious freedom, we got it, end of story. Not the Brits though, and these cafes are really throwing me for a loop.

All the main cathedrals and churches seem to have them. The crypt, obviously, is where people are buried and memorialized, and it's really cool, dark, and beautiful. But instead of a place of morning like you'd expect, it's a place to lunch!

Huge cafeterias! Wine! Pints! Salmon alfredo with fresh basil! It's all sexy and candlelight! St. Martins-in-the-fields has jazz night down there!

I mean, there is fun to be had in American churches. But it's more along the lines of going-to-King's-Dominion-with-youth-group type fun, not .... drinking! (Gasp!) You cannot drink in a house of God!!!!

I don't know. But I love 'em. Went to St. John's a few weeks ago to hear a Lithuanian Choral Group (who took three encores! Three! Who do they think they are, AC/DC?) and had a lovely glass of red and walked around the crypt, thoroughly enjoying myself. I think it's very cool.

That's just because we didn't raise you Catholic. And we must visit the house of John Knox in Edinburgh just to reinforce that.

i attended an after-party once in a crypt. was very cool and Munster-like. apparently it's also used for wedding receptions!

This is a return of an old Anglo Saxon tradition. Look at English churches and you'll note that historically (pre reformation) there were two types. The first was a monastery, 'owned' by the church (the Catholic church that is), the other was a Parish church. That was 'owned' by the parishioners, and typically surrounded by its churchyard full of graves, with its crypt full of tombs and, long ago, its charnel house full of the disinterred bones of those departed parishioners, who had been dug up from the churchyard or crypt due to lack of room (you don't really think they managed to fit a thousand years of ancestors in those tiny graveyards?).

Then, the parish church was the centre of the community. It was a public space. It was the village court, it was a village meeting hall, it was where you went to meet people, it was where you went to do official business. It was like the town hall. All this ended with the reformation, but not quite. If you look at the interiors of Wren's churches, and those he inspired, in the City, you'll find they don't look very 'churchy'. More academic and civic than ecclesiastic.

Recently, the Church of England has moved back towards the old tradition. Today, you are as likely to find a church having a musical recital as a service. Some have cafés, some theatrical performances, exhibitions and all sorts. The crypt might be a drop in centre for the homeless or the local elderly or a meeting place for assorted groups. In many instances the crypt is as likely to be leased out as a bar or restaurant or even a night club. You could call it the people reclaiming what was one theirs, but the reality is it's a pragmatic and often a completely financially driven trend. It takes money to maintain those buildings and with declining attendance's, the local clergy need to get creative about cashflow and try and find new ways of justifying the place of the building in the community by finding new uses for its underused spaces. Uses that might make them eligible for grants and get the support of financial sponsors or might give them a rental return.

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