Bombed British Church To Be Center for Peace

A tiny, 14th-century Anglican church in the heart of London that was all but obliterated by an Irish Republican Army (IRA) bomb four years ago is to be rebuilt as a Center for Reconciliation and Peace.

Richard Chartres, the Anglican Bishop of London, calls the project "an enterprise in hope" that has financial backing from "Christian partners stepping over confessional boundaries."

The church of St Ethelburga-the-Virgin, built in 1390 in the heart of the British capital's financial district (known as the "Square Mile"), was reduced to rubble in 1993 when Irish terrorists detonated a 2,000-pound bomb only 15 yards from its doorway. It was the smallest of several ancient Anglican churches within the financial district.

Ever since the blast, which killed one person and injured scores of others, discussions have been going on to try to decide what should be done with the site, which occupies only 1/10th of an acre and stands amid towering modern banks and business houses.

At one point the diocese of London considered encasing the ruins of St. Ethelburga's in glass and putting a three-story office building above it. But the plan was attacked as unsuitable by former worshippers at the church, and the local government later refused planning permission for the design.

The 3 million ($4.8 million) alternative reconstruction plan, which Bishop Chartres hopes will be completed before the turn of the century, will include a place for prayer and reflection and an area for public meetings, as well as office space and a memorial garden.

The facade of the church, as well as its 18th-century belfry, will be reconstructed.

Bishop Chartres has appointed Terry Waite and John McCarthy, who were held hostage for several years by terrorists in Lebanon, to act as advisers to the designers of the peace center.

Mr. McCarthy calls the project "a wonderful idea for a building which has itself been a victim of conflict."

The center will provide practical support and advice to victims of terrorism, torture, and conflict, Chartres says.

It will also be developed to provide what he calls "an advocacy and mediation service" aimed at resolving conflicts arising in Britain and abroad.

St. Ethelburga's was destroyed by IRA bombers at the height of a series of terrorist attacks in London. Soon after that, the bishop says, the conviction began to grow that any effort at reconstruction should somehow reflect the fact that the church itself had been a victim of violence.

St. Ethelburga's just escaped the Great Fire of London (1666), which halted a few yards from the church. It also survived the bombing blitz of the British capital during World War II.

The site of the church is no stranger to strife. In the 16th century, one of its early rectors was hanged for refusing to accept King Henry VIII's religious supremacy over the Church of England.

It was in St Ethelburga's that in 1607 the navigator Henry Hudson worshiped shortly before leaving England and setting out to explore North America.7

The church is named for the daughter of Ethelbert, a Saxon king of Kent, who became a Christian.

A steering committee of Anglicans, Roman Catholics, and members of the United Reformed Church will supervise the rebuilding project.

Bishop Chartres says: "I should be very disappointed if we didn't have St. Ethelburga's resurrected well before the millennium."

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