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Churches divided over ‘Da Vinci’ filming

Westminster Abbey says no but other cathedrals open doors to production
/ Source: The Associated Press

Westminster Abbey said no, but Lincoln Cathedral was happy to oblige, and a tiny Scottish chapel was delighted. British churches are divided over whether to allow filming of "The Da Vinci Code," an adaptation of Dan Brown's biblically revisionist best seller.

The novel's claim that Jesus Christ fathered a child with Mary Magdalene has drawn strong protests from the Roman Catholic Church, and the movie version has fanned whispers of discontent in the cathedral city of Lincoln, where Tom Hanks and the crew were filming Tuesday.

Lincoln's dean, or head of the cathedral, the Very Rev. Alec Knight, conceded that the novel was "far-fetched and heretical" but defended the decision to allow filming. The cathedral in central England accepted a reported $180,000 to double as Westminster Abbey in the Ron Howard-directed film.

"It has clearly touched the public imagination, and the church needs to open up a debate about it rather than throw one's hands up and walk away from it," Knight said.

He confirmed the cathedral had received a donation, but refused to disclose the amount. Sony Pictures, which plans to release the film in May, would not comment.

Brown's mystical thriller follows fictional professor Robert Langdon as he investigates the murder of an elderly member of an ancient society that guards dark secrets about the quest for the Holy Grail and the story of Jesus Christ. The book's mix of code-breaking, art history, religion and mystical lore has helped it sell 25 million copies since it was published two years ago.

But many Christians have been offended by the book's central claim — that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had descendants. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, a former Vatican official, said the book espoused heresy and called on Catholics to boycott it.

Westminster Abbey, the 1,000-year-old London edifice where British monarchs are crowned and buried — and whose Chapter House features in one of the book's climactic scenes — turned down an approach from producers earlier this year, saying it would be "inappropriate" to allow filming.

"Although it is a fine page-turner, we cannot commend or endorse the contentious and wayward religious and historic suggestions made in the book — nor its views of Christianity and the New Testament," the Abbey said in a statement.

Other institutions have been more welcoming. Winchester Cathedral in southern England has given permission for filming to take place later this year, as has Rosslyn Chapel near Edinburgh.

The 40-by-90 foot medieval chapel has attracted tens of thousands of tourists, many of them American, since Brown popularized its links to the once-powerful Knights Templar, a medieval military order.

Director Stuart Beattie said the 15th-century chapel expected 100,000 visitors this year, almost triple the number of two years ago.

Beattie said the chapel's trustees had agreed to allow filming over four days next month. "We didn't have any dissenting voices," he said.

"There's nothing Rosslyn is concerned about," he added. "Perhaps the church needs to grow a thicker skin."