At first glance, the handsome Georgian mansion in the heart of the Sussex countryside could easily be mistaken for a National Trust property. Indeed, at this time of year, Saint Hill Manor would not look out of place in a BBC costume drama; lawns are manicured and greenhouses stocked with abundant produce.
Only the presence of stern-faced young men sporting pristine black naval uniforms and white flat caps indicate Saint Hill's true calling. The cadets are members of the Sea Org, the 6,000-strong unit within the Church of Scientology that is run along quasi-military lines and which is treated with a degree of respect that borders on fear by some of its followers.Share
Many members are little more than children who have signed contracts pledging to perform a billion years of service for the fledgling church which was set up in 1954 by the former pulp fiction writer L Ron Hubbard, and is famed for its celebrity followers.
Banned from having children while part of the group, Sea Org members are considered the Scientology elite, shock troops to be dispatched to the church's trouble spots. Hubbard declared that they had "unlimited ethics powers".
One of the Sea Org's earliest recruits at Saint Hill, a major Scientology training centre, was David Miscavige, a Roman Catholic raised in New Jersey who joined at the age of 16, having spent several years attending the church's courses which his father hoped would cure his asthma. Miscavige was quickly selected as one of only a handful of people allowed to work directly with Hubbard, who impressed upon his apprentice the powerful role the media played in promoting religion. (Read entire post.)