Scientology, the controversial church supported by Tom Cruise and John Travolta, will today open its biggest British centre yet.
Several thousand members are expected to witness the inauguration of a new London headquarters that scientology’s leaders say will “make history in one of the most important and vibrant cities on earth”.
Cruise is expected to attend, along with other celebrity adherents including Anne Archer, the actress.
The imposing six-storey Victorian office building in the City of London cost £23m to buy and refurbish, with some of the funds coming from the church’s 124,000 British members, who pay to take courses to attain what scientology, based in Los Angeles, calls “true spiritual release and freedom”.
The building will be the most visible symbol in Britain of the movement founded by L Ron Hubbard, the American science fiction writer, in the 1950s.
The group’s most controversial teachings include what it has said about modern medicine. Cruise and other adherents have claimed that psychiatry is “Nazi science” and that its medicines are all about mind control.
Last year, Cruise announced a scientology programme to “purify” firefighters still suffering from smoke inhalation after September 11, 2001. The project advises them to dispose of their medication and inhalers and opt instead for exercise, saunas, and vitamin, mineral and oil supplements.
Other cities have been less welcoming to the scientologists. The Paris municipal assembly has said it will never make Cruise an honorary citizen because it believes he is a “self-declared militant for this organisation (scientology)”, which the French authorities regard as a dangerous cult.
The scientologists’ 10th British church is located in Queen Victoria Street, not far from St Paul’s Cathedral, among the banks and trading floors of the Square Mile.
It is seven times the size of its current London building, a shop among electrical retailers on Tottenham Court Road. “We are about to drive home the message ‘This is scientology’ like you have never seen,” said David Miscavige, chairman of the Church of Scientology.
“We were bursting at the seams before and we had room for only 50 worshippers at Tottenham Court Road,” said Janet Laveau, a spokeswoman for scientology. She said that the group had experienced “tremendous growth” but numbers in the past three years have gone up by only 5%.