Several years ago, a group of leaders from the Chinese church came to England on a holy pilgrimage. They had followed in the footsteps of one of Christianity’s great missionaries in the Far East, travelling for days to worship at the hallowed birthplace of their religious teacher.
When they reached their destination, the church leaders got down on their knees and prayed. “This truly is a sacred place,” they said. Canterbury Cathedral, perhaps? Westminster Abbey, or Stonehenge? Not quite. It was a branch of Boots. In Barnsley town centre.
For Barnsley, South Yorkshire, was home to James Hudson Taylor, the 19th-century missionary credited with taking Christianity to mainland China. And the site where Boots stands was once the Hudson Taylor pharmacy and family home. For his followers, the rows of painkillers and meal deals make for a shrine as worthy as Lourdes. And if a new heritage group has its way, the town could soon see thousands more pilgrims worshipping in the aisles.