May 17, 2006

“Da Vinci Code” churches find tourism Holy Grail

By Paul Majendie

LONDON (Reuters) - Christians may condemn "The Da Vinci
Code" as historical rubbish but for churches that starred in
the film, it is the Holy Grail of Tourism.

Most critics panned the film when it opened at the Cannes
Film Festival but the religious sites that acted as backdrops
for the movie are enjoying an influx of curious pilgrims.

"I suspect that we will have a very significant surge in
visitor numbers for the next three or four weeks," said the
Reverend Robin Griffith-Jones, master of the Temple Church in
London that appears in the Dan Brown bestseller.

He had no regrets about allowing the crew to film at the
beautiful sandstone church built by the Knights Templar. The
fee enabled him to keep the 12th century church open seven days
a week to welcome those pursuing the "Gospel According to

Winchester and Lincoln Cathedrals, both used in the movie,
have staged tours and exhibitions while Rosslyn Chapel in
Scotland, another crucial film setting, expects up to 140,000
visitors this year.

Griffith-Jones believes the book and film offer an
opportunity, not a threat for the Temple Church, home to stone
effigies of nine knights from the order of crusading monks
founded to protect pilgrims on their way to and from Jerusalem.

"The book's historical claims are rubbish," he told
Reuters. "People like me have a serious job to put the record

"This is a very sophisticated way of muddying fact and
fiction. I am not at all surprised that people who read the
book feel they are learning something. It unsettles me."

The novel has enraged religious groups because one of its
characters argues that Jesus Christ married Mary Magdalene and
had a child by her, and that elements within the Catholic
Church resorted to murder to hide the truth.

Since the book was published, visitor numbers to the Temple
church have soared and now up to 1,000 tourists a week flock
there. It is on every Da Vinci Code tour as guides cash in on
the book's popularity.

Griffith-Jones gives weekly talks in the church on "The Da
Vinci Code" and has even written his own book -- "The Da Vinci
Code and The Secrets of the Temple."

"I think people leave the church feeling grateful they have
been there. They realize it is a very special place. They walk
round slowly and talk in hushed tones. It still feels very much
like a church rather than a medieval Disneyland," he said.

The Vatican has urged Catholics to boycott the film.
Anglicans argue for a more sanguine attitude.

"The wagon is rolling," Griffith-Jones said. "We are not
going to stop it. We could ignore it and pretend it is not
there or we could get defensive and people would then think
there is something in it," he said.

"But we have nothing to hide. Church history has as many
villains as heroes. What is misleading is the suggestion that
we are not prepared to talk openly."