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21 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoying temples, an excellent guide, 5 April 2009
This review is from: The Lion Companion to Church Architecture (Hardcover)
As someone without religion but interested in history and politics, I am always drawn to cathedrals and churches. Their spiritual purpose aside, who cannot be impressed by the brilliance of Christian organisation, the adaptation of paganism, the ability to appropriate massive wealth (look up "simony") and translate this into sublime architecture? People - working over generations - were able to build structures that even our technology and materials could not replicate. Think of the "health and safety" constrains and "project managers" to foul it up. Equally they mark something less inspiring, the imposition of dogma and ideology, the oppression of superstition. Had this wealth and creative energy not been diverted to these mega temples, where would our culture, science, or medicine have evolved? (See The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason - Charles Freeman).

The author is David Stancliffe, Bishop of Salisbury. There is a cathedral worth visiting, the only English one built in a single phase starting in 1220 AD. Having a small collection of guidebooks, rather stuffy works on gothic cathedrals and abbeys and some popular books on how to read a church I was looking for something simultaneously less technical and more substantive.

Stancliffe has got the balance right. He patiently, without the pomposity of many clerics who seem to resent generalist interest in their affairs, explains the religious function/format of churches while outlining their architectural evolution. This encompasses more than the English world, delves into Western Christian heritage. I learnt much about Greek and Eastern orthodoxy, monastic evolution and the Romanesque period before running into Baroque/Rococo then Gothic in its many forms. The photographs (500 plus in colour) deserve praise, hundreds of beautifully lit and perspective corrected illustrations. This genre of photography is technically demanding, almost an art form in its own right. There are frequent interesting facts, for example English altar rails were originally designed to protect it from dogs (p 201)! Stancliffe concludes with a useful glossary and short further reading list. And for those looking for value for money, the cover price seems generous.

This is a book I enjoyed, and inspired me to get my binoculars and Hasselblad and go to see more. I will keep it to hand, next to Dawkins (God Delusion) and Hitchens (God is Not Great) - preserving a sense of perspective amid the glories in stone.
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