9780713992816 / 0713992816

England's Thousand Best Churches


Publisher:Penguin UK



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About the book:

Churches, for Simon Jenkins, "have Ruskin's sense of "voicefulness, of stern watching, of mysterious sympathy ... which we feel in walls that have long been washed by the passing waves of humanity." In this fascinating compendium, beautifully illustrated with photographs by Paul Barker from the Country Life archive, Jenkins scours the hills and dales, cities and hamlets for England's Thousand Best Churches and comes up with some old favourites, welcome inclusions and surprising additions. Alphabetically divided by county, Jenkins' parish churches cover all epochs and denominations and are star-rated from one to five. Each church merits a description that is never less than engaging and instructive and serves to remind us of a time when the church was the hub of parochial life in a way that in many areas has diminished today. The church of St Mary and St David in Kilpeck, Herefordshire, for example, "widely regarded as England's most perfect Norman church", boasts some astonishing grotesques: "a pig upside down, a dog and a rabbit, two doves, musicians, wrestlers and acrobats. All the life of a busy and bawdy Herefordshire village is depicted on its church, with no respect for the decorum piety." St Senara in Zennor, Cornwall, possesses a 15th-century bench-end depicting the legendary "Mermaid of Zennor", as well as being the resting place for the last Cornish speaker in the county. The remote timber-frame church of St Thomas Becket in Fairfield, Kent, rises up from Romney Marsh and has sheep grazing around the door.

Jenkins pays particular attention to the exquisite Wren and Hawksmoor churches in the City of London, such as St Bride Fleet Street and St Martin Within Ludgate, erected during 1670-1720 as part of the rebuilding of the city following the Great Fire of London in 1666. Most were damaged in the Blitz of World War II, but have been extensively restored, even though their parishes have disappeared around them. England's Thousand Best Churches is a varied, informative and entertaining overview of what constitutes, in Jenkins' view, "a Museum of England". From Cumbria to Cambridgeshire, "it is through the churches of England that we learn who we were and thus who we are and might become. Lose that learning and we lose the collective memory that is the essence of human society." --Catherine Taylor

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