Length: 404 Pages
When Christopher Somerville, author of the The January Man ('a truly wonderful, uplifting book, bursting with life' - Nicholas Crane), set out to explore Britain’s cathedrals, he found his fixed ideas shaken to the roots.
Starting out, he pictured cathedrals – Britain possesses over one hundred – as great unmoving bastions of tradition. But as he journeys among favourites old and new, he discovers buildings and communities that have been in constant upheaval for a thousand years. Here are stories of the monarchs and bishops who ordered the building of these massive but unstable structures, the masons whose genius brought them into being, the peasant labourers who erected (and died on) the scaffolding. We learn of rogue saints exploited by holy sinners, the pomp and prosperity that followed these ships of stone, the towns that grew up in their shadows, the impact of the Black Death, the Reformation and icon-smashing Puritanism, the revival brought about by the Industrial Revolution, and the hope and disillusion of two world wars.
Meeting believers and non-believers, architects and archaeologists, the cleaner who dusts the monuments and the mason who judges stone by its taste, we delve deep into the private lives and the uncertain future of these ever-voyaging Ships of Heaven.
Length: 404 Pages
"Writing about the spirit of place is sometimes like nailing jelly to the wall, but Somerville's thoughtful, occasionally poetic prose hits the spot for a book that sets out to define the genius loci of these magnificent buildings."
"Cathedrals are all things to all people. ... To capture all this, vividly and stylishly, in one, not-very-long book suggests something close to divine inspiration ... Yet it’s not the breadth of his travels that impresses. You can buy many a glossy gazetteer that gives you the tourist spiel on dozens more British cathedrals than the 20 he covers. Rather, it’s the depth of the “cathedral experience” that he uncovers by the old-fashioned journalistic method of getting knowledgeable people to talk freely about what they know best, then using his sharp eyes and wits to fill in the rest of the story."
"[Christopher Somerville's] writing is utterly enticing"
"“[A] friendly wander around twenty-one British Cathedrals, Christopher Somerville, the walking correspondent of The Times, passes the hard test giving life to buildings that most readers have never visited…He provides many human faces to the cathedrals he visits…I hope he inspires readers to go for themselves”"
"Cathedrals are perhaps Christianity's greatest modern ambassadors in these islands: welcoming portals to experiences and emotions beyond everyday concerns. Christopher Somerville is a genial companion as far as the remotest among these glorious communities, and charmingly opens the private doors at which visitors cast speculative glances."