My book review of 'Steeple chasing' by Peter Ross

by Peter Ross
Steeple chasing
by Peter Ross

We were all reminded of the splendour of Westminster Abbey in the coverage of the Coronation this weekend. But there are many churches, large and small, throughout the country which are, arguably, as rich in history, stories and architectural features. This is an account of a journey "around Britain by Church" described in the blurb as "a travel book with bells on"!

The author's previous book was about graveyards in Britain so presumably he was collecting information for this book at the same time. There isn't a particular thread to connect each section but it doesn't really matter. It's beautifully written and a delight to dip into each chapter wondering what's in store.

And the author covers quite a mix of subjects - cathedrals and cats, well dressing and stone sculptures, monasteries and angels, artists, prayer books and bats. But above all, it's the stories of the people connected to the buildings that makes this such a compelling and uplifting read.

There are some amazing stories and lots of surprises. A church in Swaffham, Norfolk, had lain redundant and derelict for years but when a woman stumbled across it on a bike ride and discovered that it was being used for satanic rituals, she and her husband decided to take the matter in hand. They reclaimed the church, restored it and uncovered an ancient painting on the wall believed to date to the 11th century, an only surviving representation of Noah's Ark. 

"Churches are akin to museums and art galleries," the author writes, "in which the building itself is the star exhibit." And he quotes Rachel Morley from the Friends of Friendless Churches: "These buildings transcend time. They are the spiritual investment and the artistic legacy of generations, and a community's greatest expression of itself over centuries...Churches are monuments to the lives of thousands of ordinary people who have been completely forgotten about."

This is a fantastic book which I'll delve into again, and I may also plan a visit to a few of these churches, too!

Date of this review: April 2023
Book publication date: 11th May 2023