Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Oh, those Oxford Hangovers

September 7, 2009 · 2 Comments

During our time in London, we have noticed that many of the religious institutions we have been visiting rely on gift shops and cafés to increase revenue. Some basic internet research shows that many people have mixed feelings about whether or not this practice is acceptable. Generally speaking, we do not believe it is necesarily inappropriate for a church or temple to sell refreshments or gifts related to the location or religion. Given a decrease in European religious sentiment and worldwide economic difficulty, donations aren’t a very reliable source of funding. If a place is to be kept open to a public (tourists and worshipers alike) it needs money to run. Employees and utilities need to be paid and maintenance isn’t cheap. It’s easy to understand the rationale behind the decision to open a shop.

For the most part, the places of worship we have visited had signs informing the guest that the proceeds from the shop or café benefit either local charity or the building itself. For example, St. Martin’s in the Fields’ gift shop benefits “the work” of the church. Additionally, the products sold are related to Christianity, the church itself, and the church’s location. Furthermore, the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir‘s gift shop sold incense, prayer beads, and other products Hindus would need for everyday use in addition to more “touristy” items. We consider all odthese items to be appropraite for such a shop; they are directly related to the place and its purpose.

Whilst visiting the Christ Church College in Oxford (this may or may not have been related to Harry Potter), we stumbled into “The Cathedral Shop” adjacent to the college’s chapel. Most of the items sold by this shop were very similar to the other gifts shops we previously encountered. There were chalices, books, t-shirts, postcards, etc. There was a fairly modest Harry Potter section relating the the films that were partially created at the location alongside a small section dedicated to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, which was written in Oxford.

However, we did notice a few items that did not seem appropriate for a shop entitled “The Cathedral Shop.” Instead, they seemed to be trying VERY hard to appeal to young, hip buyers:


The last time we checked, no religion condones binge drinking and sleeping until 4pm and Oxford isn’t particularly famous for its hangovers.

We’re curious to see what everyone else in the group thinks about the idea of gift shops in religious buildings and what kinds of items they should sell.

Categories: Alli · Churches and Cathedrals · Sarah
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2 responses so far ↓

  •   aidanoshea // Sep 7th 2009 at 17:05

    I’m with you guys that gift shops are fine if they’re truly in the interest of the community or the building, and they’re sort of out of sight of the actual sacred space (the Mandir is a good example of this). I was actually really disappointed that St. Martin in the Fields converted their entire beautiful crypt to a gift shop and cafe, however.

    I touched on this in a post the other day, but I really wouldn’t like to be part of a religious institution that so caters to tourists that it seems to infringe upon the actual purpose of the building. I suppose regular patrons of Bath Abbey and St. Paul’s, for example, have just come to accept that as part of going to an historic place of worship. However, I don’t see this kind of stuff flying (except at maybe a few places) in the States. Maybe that has to do with the relative religiosity of the population as a whole

  •   abarron76 // Sep 8th 2009 at 05:32

    Gift shops are fine, as long as they are separated from the attraction itself. I reflected on this in an older post http://blogs.dickinson.edu/norwichhumanities/2009/09/02/except-for-barron-who-chose-not-to-go . Back in Bath Abbey, one of the most beautiful cathedrals I’ve ever seen, there were so many places to purchase touristy crap like snowglobes and ornaments not only in the gift shop, but in locations around the nave of the church as well. Seeing that is like nails on a chalkboard to me.

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