IN these cash-strapped times, every person and every organisation is looking to maximise the return on their assets.

The Church Commissioners hope to cash in on the Zurbaran paintings that have hung in Auckland Castle for 260 years. Liquidating that asset will, they hope, raise £15m. When invested, that would generate £500,000 a year which would be enough to fund ten priests.

Quite how the working party, which has to come up with alternatives to the sale, can match these hard cash figures is difficult to see.

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Although the motivation for the sale is understandable, the decision to sell is based on a chillingly cold calculation.

It does not put a price on the heritage that will be destroyed and it does not put a cost on the damage to the Church’s message.

Bishop Richard Trevor’s plea for religious tolerance will be flogged off to the highest bidder – what does that say about the values of the modern Church?

The money from the sale will assist the Church’s work, but it will just disappear into the black hole of the Church’s coffers, and something absolutely unique – the story of the 12 original paintings and the one copy brought together in the castle’s elongated dining room – will have been lost for ever.

Will future generations look back and understand how the Church made such a commercial decision to destroy County Durham’s heritage?

Without its prize asset, Auckland Castle’s revenue-earning potential will be lower and so its long-term future will continue to be questioned.

Bishop Auckland needs all the revenue-earning potential it can get at the moment – the Commissioners visiting yesterday must have been struck by all the boarded-up windows of closed restaurants, pubs and offices on the roads leading to the palace.

Rather than cashing in on the region’s Christian heritage, the Commissioners should be celebrating it.

Rather than breaking it down and selling it off, they should be joining it up and promoting it: Bishop Auckland, Durham, Jarrow, Holy Island – what a brilliant Christian story that could promote the Christian message worldwide far better than £15m in investments.