Rivers of beer and sensual pole dancing in church.
Protestant pastor Klaas Bakker had offered Saint Catherine, a historical sacred building towering over the main square in the Dutch city of Doetichem, as the location for an annual ceremony held by the local carnival company.
But, contrary to the agreement established with local religious authorities, the event’s organisers put up a pole in the central nave of what had once been one of the main places of Catholic worship in the region, until the Protestant Reformation.
The images of the lap dancer strutting her stuff in church have caused a scandal in the Netherlands.
What happened in Doetinchem is the latest of a series of events that have transformed sacred buildings into highly unsuitable venues.
A few days ago, Spanish Catholics protested through the mass media about some images which showed actress Paz Vega undressing in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Incarnation, patron of Gerena, in the Archdiocese of Seville, for the new Lambertz calendar.
“CatharinaKerk” in Doetinchem, the central church that was transformed into a dance club for one night only, suffered serious damages during the Second World War bombings and underwent a long restoration programme from 1948 to 1963.
Originally a Catholic church, it passed into the hands of the Protestants in 1591 during the Protestant Reformation in the Netherlands. There are also two castles that form part of the ecclesiastical complex: De Kelder and Slangeburg.
Meanwhile, besides the trend of churches where worship still takes place, being used for “indecent purposes”, another phenomenon is also spreading across Northern Europe: Churches are being sold and used for other activities, whilst still maintaining their original structure.
This phenomenon is particularly prominent in the UK, where approximately 50.000 temples of worship are experiencing problems with expenses and many are already being used to house shops, markets or offices.
The phenomenon is also taking root in Italy, where some churches have undergone restructuring and now include a kitchenette. Then there are the small and solitary churches that are stuck in the middle of nowhere; or scenic structures overlooking the sea.
Some are luxurious baroque structures standing in historical centres while others resemble lofts. They have all been deconsecrated and passed down through the centuries from the Church to private owners (mostly decayed noble families) and put on sale.
In this case, architects and designers are employed to transform them into chic homes and offices.
In Italy, the oldest deconsecrated church on sale is the Volterra. It dates back to the year 850 and is worth 1, 6 million Euros. For some, permission has already been obtained to change the intended use of the building and can thus be turned into homes; as in the case of one church in Florence’s Careggi area, in which a 170 m space has been used to build a kitchenette.
For many churches, a plan has already been laid out to make them more comfortable. Chapels annexed to disused convents, immersed in spacious gardens, are very attractive and are ideal for agritourism businesses.
The Holy See and the national episcopates have warned time and time again that sacred buildings cannot just be used in any which way, not even after they have been deconsecrated, if their external appearance is obviously that of a church.
If the structure in question is a warehouse being used temporarily as a centre for religious worship, this poses no problems for ecclesiastical authorities the day it falls into disuse.
But the structure in question is a church, it will require certain care.
A certain cultural and religious sensitivity will need to be shown in relation to structures that remain places of worship in people’s collective memory.
In the calendar for the German chocolate company Lambertz, the Spanish actress Paz Vega was photographed nude inside a church in Seville.
The images represent a mix of eroticism and traditional religious imagination.
The Secretary of the Confraternity of Our Lady of the Incarnation in Gerena, Antonio Manuel Marín defended himself against the protests of faithful, saying he had given permission for the photo shoot to go ahead, unaware that the actress was going to take her clothes off.
The calendar’s producers appealed to the “right to art” and Paz Vega herself assured: “I did not wish to cause offence. I did this with love, in honour of my country and my tradition.”
The Archbishop of Seville, Juan José Asenjo condemned what happened, including it among “the acts that undermine the sentiments of faithful, wound the sensitivity of those who worship the holy patron of Gerena and go against the regulations set forth in canonical law concerning the use of sacred places.”