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Bombed Istanbul chapel to reopen

02 November 2006

NEARLY two years after the bombing of the British Consulate in Istanbul, the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, has announced that the Foreign Office is to fund repairs to the Anglican chapel, St Helena's, which was badly damaged in the terrorist attack.

The 19th-century chapel, which is on the edge of the consulate grounds, has been sealed off since it was hit (exterior, pictured right). The bombings killed 28 people, including the Consul-General Roger Short, and injured hundreds.

Six months ago, the Anglican Chaplain in Istanbul, Canon Ian Sherwood, and his congregation spoke out about proposals to lease the land to a neighbouring hotel development ( News, 6 May). They formed a campaign group to lobby the Foreign Office. The Foreign Office said at the time that it was still consulting on the question.

Last week, however, a written response to a question raised in the House of Lords by Lord Strathclyde, Leader of the Opposition in the Upper House, said: "The Foreign Secretary has now asked officials to discuss the repair of the chapel with the Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe and the Church Council at Istanbul. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office will meet reasonable costs."

Canon Sherwood, who was awarded an OBE for his work in the wake of the attacks, said on Wednesday that everyone was thrilled with the news. Costs were difficult to estimate, but could rise as high as six figures. "No details of this have been discussed or agreed yet." He stressed that restoring St Helena's was not about restoring an historic building for the sake of it; rather, it was vital for the work of the Church in Istanbul.

He said that the chaplaincy ran three buildings: a small 19th-century one used by Turkish Christian congregations; Christ Church, which hosts the main Anglican services, and acts as a hostel and school for refugees; and St Helena' s.

"We desperately need this sanctuary in the centre of town," said Canon Sherwood: "somewhere that can be open and used as a regular place of worship. We are not trying to preserve a mausoleum, but thinking of the future of the Church here. We particularly want to re-open the 19th-century gate, which goes on to the street, rather than have people come in the back way."

The Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe, Dr Geoffrey Rowell, said last week that he was delighted by the news of "this positive outcome, which ensures Christian worship will continue on a site which was given many years ago by the Turkish government expressly for that purpose".

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