Cathedrals and Abbeys (Amazing and Extraordinary Facts) by Stephen Halliday

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Cathedrals and Abbeys (Amazing and Extraordinary Facts) by Stephen Halliday

Category: History
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A quick-seeming, but deceptively insightful, trawl round the major religious buildings of Britain and Ireland.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 144 Date: November 2015
Publisher: Rydon Publishing
ISBN: 9781910821046

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What makes a cathedral? It's not automatically the principal church of anywhere that is made a city – St Davids is a village of 2,000 people, and wasn't always a city, but always had a cathedral, as did Chelmsford. It's not the seat of a bishop – Glasgow has the building but not the person, and hasn't had a bishop since 1690. It's not a minster – that's something completely different, and if you can understand the sign in the delightful Beverley Minster describing the difference, that I saw only the other month, you're a better man I, Gunga Din. Luckily this book doesn't touch on minsters much, and we can understand abbeys, so it's only the vast majority of this book that is saddled with the definition problem. It's clearly not a real problem, and those it does have are by-passable, for this successfully defines a cathedral as somewhere of major importance, fine trivia and greatly worthy of our attention.

Problems do exist – it declares the Boxing Day Tsunami happened on Christmas Eve, which is a bit of a worry. There are paragraphs to which Microsoft Word would give a wiggly line to half their length. The author has gone back to his box-out days, meaning whereas each city's entry could just be one narrative line, it's in six tiny micro-chapters, jumping from font to font and from subject to subject, and referring to each other willy-nilly without letting us know where to look for the cross-reference, meaning that while this book can be easily browsed atop a mediaeval garderobe, it's not ideal for a long perusal atop a misericord.

But as that last phrase was designed to suggest, you really do imbue a heck of a lot about the nation's cathedrals from these pages. Trivia is a bit of a catty term in this regard, to describe the historical detail, fascinating coincidences, remarkable superlatives and other facts that pepper these pages. Here is a stained-glass golfer from 1350, and a picture of the tombstone for Richard III, only interred in Leicester a few months before this book reached me. This being quite diverse from the other books I have read from this author in this generally fine series, it proves again that he can turn no end of knowledge and research into a succinct and erudite tome. Light-hearted in its deft movement from subject to subject, even if the flow was not as smooth as it might have been on numerous occasions, it gives such a serious subject a most welcome approach that I heartily approve of.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

For a closer look at just one such abbey, we recommend Westminster Abbey: A Thousand Years of National Pageantry by Richard Jenkyns.

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Buy Cathedrals and Abbeys (Amazing and Extraordinary Facts) by Stephen Halliday at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Cathedrals and Abbeys (Amazing and Extraordinary Facts) by Stephen Halliday at Amazon.com.


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