‘Somerville is one of our finest gazetteers of the British countryside. He brings his formidable knowledge to bear on his personal quest to explore the cathedrals in this entrancing book’
Christopher Somerville, author of the acclaimed The January Man, pictured cathedrals as great unmoving bastions of tradition. But as he journeys among Britian’s 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 construction of these buildings, the masons whose genius brought them into being, and the peasants who worked 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.
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.
‘Somerville paints word pictures of exquisite quality’
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
Many children of the first post-war generation found their parents troubled, emotionally unavailable or difficult to connect with. In The January Man, nature writer Christopher Somerville shares how ‘going for a walk’ opened up this relationship.