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A Little History of the English Country Church [Hardcover]

Roy Strong
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)

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Book Description

6 Sep 2007
In this fascinating book Roy Strong tells the dramatic story of the English parish church, from the first temporary buildings erected in Anglo-Saxon times to its uncertain future in the twenty-first century. Starting with the Christianisation of Britain by missionaries from Ireland and Rome, he takes us on a journey through the Middle Ages, when elaboration and beauty in church art and architecture reached their peak in the building boom of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. He describes in vivid detail the rituals and ceremonies at the heart of the parish community – the processions and celebrations of the church year, the public piety and rites of passage that guided parishioners through their lives and, most of all, the miracle of the Mass performed every Sunday. The rich spirituality of medieval Catholicism was destroyed by the cataclysm of the ‘long Reformation’ in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which replaced the splendour of Catholic ritual and its adoration of the Sacrament with a simple service that centred on the preaching of the Word; moreover, it abolished age-old concepts of devotion and salvation. From the mid-seventeenth century reformers tried to repair the damage caused by the iconoclasm of the Reformation by re-introducing images, decoration and ceremonial to the average country church. From the ‘beauty of holiness’, advocated by Archbishop Laud in the 1630s, to the liturgical revival of the Oxford Movement in the nineteenth century, they looked back to the Middle Ages for a tradition of worship that engaged all the senses. At the same time, we witness the gradual dissolution of the parish church as the social hub of the local community; first the Catholics, then the Dissenters, and later the Methodists would leave the church and form their own congregations. In addition, the disintegration of the rural community from the early nineteenth century would change the social setting of the English country church for ever. Yet despite the dramatic changes that took place inside the parish church over the centuries, the building remained a symbol of continuity, etched into the tableau of the English countryside. Over the last few decades, however, the building itself has come under threat and Roy Strong concludes that, in order to survive, the country church will need to find a new role within a changed countryside. Roy Strong’s little history is an elegy for the English country church – and a passionate plea for its preservation.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Jonathan Cape; 1st edition (6 Sep 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0224075225
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224075220
  • Product Dimensions: 16.3 x 21.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 571,027 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"The Church of England might just be about to see the most significant change in centuries." -- Church Times

"Ideal further reading" -- The Economist

"Roy Strong has written an indispensable book" -- The Sunday Telegraph

'Strong tells this story with expertise and a highly readable style' -- Literary Review

'Treasure of a book ... riveting ... I urge you to read Strong's passionately penned book.'
-- Daily Mail

`A charmingly produced book...Roy Strong's style, too, is gentle while erudite, affectionate but realistic' -- Sunday Express

`Anyone with the slightest interest in the English parish church...will be intrigued, informed and enchanted' -- Country Life

`Roy Strong's enthusiasm for his subject is almost tactile' -- Herald

`The writing is concise, uncluttered, clear'. -- The Times

`no visitor to country church could fail to profit from reading this elegant and resourcefully illustrated book'
-- Times Literary Supplement

Review

`a modest title for a book that provides a cleverly concise narrative of the history of Christian worship in England'. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

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4.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
45 of 49 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A long overdue general history and introduction 19 July 2008
Format:Hardcover
Periodically books are written on the subject of the parish churches in England. The wealth of beautiful churches that this country has is one of the most unappreciated aspects of England's architectural heritage and many urban and rural parishes are struggling in the upkeep of these edifices, some of which are of cathedral like proportions to services villages of a few hundred. This is the motivation that Roy Strong states in his introduction for writing this book - to highlight the country church's plight and highlight the challenges we will face to preserve them in the twenty first century. Whereas the twentieth century saw the preservation of the country house, the twenty first century will have to deal with the challenge of preserving the parish church building.

The book is however mainly an overview of the way that the building and in particular the furnishings of English parish churches have changed from the early medieval era which saw church interiors lavishly decorates and furnished through the period of the Reformation and the Commonwealth which saw the destruction of a massive amount of church art and furnishings which tracked the interpretation of Protestant theology in its manifestation in the decoration and liturgy of the parish church. The book describes in vivid detail the rituals and ceremonies at the heart of the parish throughout history tracing their changes with the contemporary religious and political events that occurred in England, particularly momentous events such as the Reformation and subtle changes brought about by the Oxford Movement in the mid nineteenth century which has shaped the liturgy and decoration of modern parish churches to this day.

The book however is popularist rather than academic.
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
The author of this book, Sir Roy Strong, former Director of the National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum, is also a broadcaster, and has written a number of bestselling books which include The Story of Britain, The Cult of Elizabeth and The Spirit of Britain.

This book attempts to narrate the complex history and development of the English parish church "...from the first buildings erected in Anglo-Saxon times to its uncertain future in the twenty-first century." That is to undertake quite a task and the author has made a jolly good job of it!

The book has been described as a "richly illustrated elegy, and a plea for the preservation of the country church." Indeed, Strong's book really is both at once a celebration of the English country church - and a passionate plea for its conservation. The author entertainingly and anecdotally relates the dramatic ebb and flow of the English parish church, through its various epochs and vicissitudes.

The reader really does feel as though he or she is actually engaged in a voyage through time; from the arrival of those Catholic missionaries who systematically erected crosses here and there to mark the places where they preached, to the beautiful architecture and aureate pseudo-spirituality of medieval Christianity; from the tumult of the Reformation to the times of the 'squarson', the sedate, gentrified type of cleric we encounter in the works of Jane Austen: we are swept along on a journey of discovery and rediscovery.

This book is an enlightening and an invigorating yarn and this reviewer can heartily commend it to prospective readers.

Michael Calum Jacques
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars review 28 July 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
this is an excellent if not erudite book. It is not especially an easy read but is so full of interesting facts. I would recommend it to anyone interested in English Parish Churches.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Respected Insider Insight 13 Feb 2009
Format:Paperback
Dr Roy Strong gives an overview of the changes in the English Church as they affected the Parish Churches and the people. We are reminded of the traumas for the people as change that they do not understand is forced on them. He writes as a distinguished historian and as a practicing Anglican Christian.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars church history 2 Oct 2010
Format:Paperback
An easy-to-read and informative book which tracks the changes upon church architecture and interior furnishings which were the result of continuous intervention from the monarchy (think Henry VIII) and notable reformers (think eg Wesley).I would have happily paid more for a book with better quality illustrations as some are indistinct and do not support the excellent text.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Treat. 16 Mar 2009
Format:Paperback
That quietude and sense of belonging to be found in most English country churches is something very precious. It is easy to forget that the apparent timelessness is born of centuries of evolution and, occasionally, revolution.

Sir Roy Strong's history, whilst displaying his characteristically scholarly approach, does not pretend to the highest academic accuracy so he is able to allow himself some historical assumptions. In this he follows his inspirational lead; Eamonn Duffy's "The Stripping of the Altars" - a work not without its own assumptions - to provide an excellent little book serving to remind us in a delightfully readable fashion that things were not always so ordered. I think, along with the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and Hymns A&M on the table inside the country church door, should be found (for sale) copies of this small volume to remind congregants and visitors alike not only of the history of the institution and the inestimable value of a genre uniquely English but also the degree in which it currently is imperiled.

The future of these buildings in what seems a burgeoning post-Christian era - the subject with which Strong (with little enthusiasm) concludes the book - should be a matter for urgent national debate. The church's function is and should continue as a place of worship but demographic shifts and fundamental changes in rural life have pushed many churches towards a functional obsolescence.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Fine
Published 11 days ago by Mrs Virginia L Holly
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Looks good. Not had a chance to read it fully.
Published 18 days ago by Joan Ewins
5.0 out of 5 stars Came promptly, in good condition
The book came promptly in good condition. It is a very interesting informative book and just what I wanted for my research.
Published 6 months ago by Patricia/Michael Pothecary
5.0 out of 5 stars Roy Strong wins again
This s a delightful little book and great for anyone ho enjoys discovering the joys of our English Parish Churches.
Published 6 months ago by Mrs J Graveson
5.0 out of 5 stars Digital version
This is a favorite standard text on the subject, and I am looking forward to having a copy easily accessible wherever I am.
Published 13 months ago by D. A. Cole
5.0 out of 5 stars A good read
Well written and enlightening. Presents a good introduction to English Churches how they developed both physically and spiritually. Secular use also dealt with in some detail.
Published 16 months ago by GORDON CORN
5.0 out of 5 stars A llitle Hisory of the English Country Church
I bought the book because I had just borrowed it from the library and thought it was very informative and interesting. The seller was Better Books who listed it as new for 1 penny! Read more
Published 17 months ago by katy
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating.
This is a really interesting book, with lots of fascinating information. Fine for those who enjoy pottering around churches as well as for historians.
Published 18 months ago by headleyashe
4.0 out of 5 stars Invitation to English country church and its history
Roy Strong's A Little History of English country church may look like a rather slim volume on such a vast topic as history of English church (both as an institution and building). Read more
Published 21 months ago by Martin Mostek
4.0 out of 5 stars A surprising read
I expected Roy Strong's book to be a description of how the English country church had remained a pillar of stability, influence and continuity through tumultuous ages. Read more
Published 22 months ago by Ed Crutchley
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