Visit church in cyberspace

At 900 years old, a global opening ceremony for Great Yarmouth's magnificent parish church might seem somewhat belated…But in cyber world virtual people called avatars are teleporting into St Nicholas' for a zoom around the vestry or even a stroll on the roof.

At 900 years old, a global opening ceremony for Great Yarmouth's magnificent parish church might seem somewhat belated…

But in cyber world virtual people called avatars are teleporting into St Nicholas' for a zoom around the vestry or even a stroll on the roof.

For the landmark building has been transported lock stock and wonky weather cock into the 3D virtual reality world of Second Life and now ranks among hundreds of real buildings turned into cartoon locations on the booming internet enterprise where 10m people from all over the world mingle.

Visitors have already tossed more than £60 into a virtual collection plate - and more than 40 bands from all over the world were this week booked to play as part of its “opening” celebrations.

Sid White, 33, of Newtown, has spent months taking hundreds of photographs of the church inside and out in order to build a version of it into Second Life, where he has lived virtually for three years as Sid Corleone.

In that time he has acquired four plots of land costing £80 a month in real money and on which he has built the church.

Most Read

“I initially had an American-style chapel and my German friend Jo from Hamburg who has booked all the bands suggested building the church that my mum and dad were married in and where my brother and I were christened. Now you can go inside it, walk or fly about and see the church from angles you would never normal be able to. It has taken a couple of months and there is a lot of detail including the organ and the stained glass window.

Mr White, who is currently unemployed but has tried a range of jobs from acting and singing to security and sales, says he has big ambitions in Second Life where the line between the real and the virtual is becoming increasingly blurred. Playboy has its own bunny-shaped island and British police have posted missing Madeleine McCann posters on virtual buildings.

Real companies have been quick to spot the potential for business opening virtual stores and Mr White hopes to expand his empire and buy an island as a promotional tool for Yarmouth.

Canon Michael Woods, rector at St Nicholas', said: “I was puzzled at first because of the technology but I can see it has quite a value for housebound people. At a very ordinary level it is very good fun and at a more serious level it's a way of learning and meeting people you otherwise would not. I do not mind how virtual it is as long as the money they send is real. Perhaps when I retire they will be able to get a virtual vicar?”

Money collected in Second Life will be donated to the church.

To see for yourself visit SecondLife.com, register, then search for St Nicholas Church. It is free to play but there is fake stuff to buy if you exchange pounds for Linden dollars. The idea came from Linden Labs and gained international status at the end of 2006. Players create an animated person to their own specification called an avatar.