LONDON — The British government will spend 1.5 million pounds ($2.25 million) for teams of conservationists who will devise ways to keep historic churches — some built before Columbus discovered America — from crumbling into dust.
The money will come from taxpayer-funded English Heritage agency, whose chief executive, Simon Thurley, described the task as "really a big challenge" for congregations, many of whose numbers are steadily dwindling.
"We have churches which perhaps were built in 1300 or 1400 (A.D.), (and) they've got a lot of medieval stonework, they've got very complicated roofs with very complicated gutters," Thurley said.
The government's culture secretary, Andy Burnham, said the project will involve a team of 30 conservationists. The aim is to save "the finest of the country's built heritage … our magnificent places of worship."
Many of the churches that will be surveyed barely survive on either tourist or historical interest, or both.
One, the Anglican All Saints church in the tiny village of Croughton, in England's Midlands, has fought for years for funds to restore a crumbling 14th-century panorama of paintings devoted to the life of the Virgin Mary and the infancy of Jesus Christ.
Another major candidate for conservation help is Canterbury Cathedral, founded more than 1,400 years ago but in need of 41 million pounds ($612 million) for vital conservation work over the coming years.
The Save Canterbury Cathedral Appeal, launched two years ago, already has collected 9 million pounds ($13.5 million), but the storied cathedral still needs more than 14,500 pounds (nearly $22,000) a day just to keep running.
In all, the Church of England alone has some 12,000 church buildings that are listed as architecturally important — and most of those, like the one in Croughton, date from the Middle Ages. Some are in advanced states of decay, and efforts to preserve them have proven expensive.
The conservationists will report to the commission with its recommendations about which churches are in most need of repairs, with the aim of preventing more costly deterioration.