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Building the temples

The European figures on church attendance often give gloomy reading. But in Romania a wave of church building in the Orthodox faith equals that of any revival - an average of one every three is constructed in the country as we write.

As the BBC noted last month, 'To travel across the north of Romania from Suceava in Moldavia to Maramures is to be bamboozled by exquisite religious eye candy.' The Cathedral for the People's Salvation will tower over its immediate neighbour - the ex-Dictator Nicolae Ceausescu's enormous Palace of the People.

The building programme exists despite Romania being one of the poorest countries in the EU - recipient of a multi-billion IMF loan in 2009, one fifth of Romanians live below the poverty line. Yet the government gives more than €100 million for priest salaries even before its funding of church buildings.

For some this is too much. The head of the Green Party, Remus Cernea, says 'In many cases politicians give public funds to churches and in exchange the priests support them in electoral campaigns. Often you see the construction companies who build the churches owned by people who are very close to the politicians. So it's a kind of circle of money.' Romania's Minister of Religious Affairs, Victor Opaschi,demurs: 'The communists took from the church and it lost nearly all its property,' he says. 'Now the state is trying to compensate for this by giving back a small proportion of what it has taken.'