Southwark Cathedral has been accused of promoting the “antithesis of the Christian gospel” by allowing its nave to be used as a catwalk to sell clothes.
British designer Julien MacDonald brought his collection to the place of worship on Monday night as part of London Fashion Week, turning the aisle into a parade of scantily dressed models.
It was described by the 48-year-old British designer as a “celebration of women” and attracted celebrity guests including the actor Ed Westwick and socialite Lady Victoria Hervey.
However, a leading Anglican clergyman has questioned whether the cathedral should be “giving a platform” to an event which promotes “a narcissistic self-referential display for the very rich”.
High-profile catwalk shows are big money-spinners for fashion houses which build the reputation of designers and cement their links with wealthy and influential customers.
Last night, Rev Dr Gavin Ashenden, the former chaplain to the Queen, urged the diocese “think twice” about whether its holy buildings were being used in a manner fitting for a faith that renounces materialism.
The grade-listed south London church, which has stood since the 12th century, is available for hire for “special events”, from formal dinners to drama and musical productions.
The cathedral has charged money for the use of its buildings since 2000, using the money to help fund the upkeep of the building and costs of worship, as well as ensuring it stays open to the public free of charge.
It comes at a time when church leaders across the country are attempting to combat shrinking congregations with increasingly inventive methods to stump up cash.
Dr Ashenden, who was ordained at Southwark Cathedral, told The Daily Telegraph: “Southwark Cathedral has made its premises available for fashion in the past and one of the things they try and do is build a bridge between secular society and the Christian church and that's no bad thing.
“The problem comes comes when the ethical content of what they are trying to host is in direct contradiction to Christian values. It's like what happened with Rochester and Norwich - it's the Disneyfication of entertainment.
“The cathedral should ask itself to see if the complaints about the fashion industry - as promoting a narcissistic self referential display for the very rich - is indeed conducive with the values of the Christian gospel.
“I think the fashion industry is the antithesis of the Christian gospel. It's about the exposure of the poverty of our souls and that’s about hiding the state of the soul in an excess of glamour.
“A cathedral ought to think twice before it provides a platform to a cultural venture like this.”
London Fashion Week has previously been embroiled in controversy over the use of churches by some of the shows on its schedule.
In 2017, Turkish designer Dilara Findikoglu prompted outrage by dressing models in satanic costumes for their appearance at an event in St Andrew Holborn church in central London.
Officials at Westminster Abbey were similarly accused of selling their soul “for a pair of trousers” after allowing a Gucci show to take place in 2016.
The British Fashion Council, which organises London Fashion Week, said it did not allocate venues to designers to stage their shows, apart from the main hub on the Strand.
A spokesman for Southwark Cathedral said: “Southwark Cathedral has over many years been used for a variety of different events, including those related to the fashion industry. We were pleased to be invited to work with the British designer Julien MacDonald as part of this year’s London Fashion Week.
“His show brought many people into the Cathedral who might not otherwise have come, and many recognised it as a beautiful and special place. The show was delivered in a professional, respectful and energetic way.
“Fashion and its impact on the environment, how we use clothes as part of daily life and what clothing is appropriate are important issues for Christians and others to engage with as aspects of modern living.”
Representatives of Julien MacDonald did not respond to requests for comment.