Theology library split despite church protests

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The Independent Online
ANDREW BROWN

Religious Affairs Correspondent

One of the oldest and loveliest theological libraries in England yesterday succumbed to the 20th century with a surprising lack of rancour.

Sion College is housed in a 19th-century Grade 1 listed building on the embankment in the City of London, but its library dates from 1630, with some books more than a century older.

However, a meeting of the college's governing body, the court, decided yesterday by 21 votes to seven to break it up.

The books will be divided between Lambeth Palace library and that of King's College, London. The college itself, a sort of club for city clergy, hopes to take over a redundant church, while the building will be sold. However, it is not expected to fetch more than pounds 1m, since it is both dilapidated and legally very difficult to modify.

The plans to break up the library have been the focus of fierce opposition. It is unique in its scope, cheapness and friendliness. Opponents of the plans have threatened injunctions and worse.

Yet yesterday's meeting was curiously good-tempered. The Rev Chad Varah, Rector of St Stephen's Walbrook in the City, and founder of the Samaritans, urged that the books be housed in a redundant church. "We are the custodians of a wonderful collection of books," he said. "I shall be heartbroken ... if I cannot come to these books in one place."

However, Canon John Halliburton, of St Paul's Cathedral, told the meeting that the college had an investment income of pounds 36,000 a year, while the building cost pounds 200,000 a year and needed pounds 1m for repairs. "I don't think in today's world the appetite of corporate givers to fund a theological library is very great," he said.

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