When Christopher Somerville, author of the The January Man ('a truly wonderful, uplifting book, bursting with life' - Nicholas Crane), set out to explore Britain's cathedrals, he found his fixed ideas shaken to the roots.
Starting out, he pictured cathedrals - Britain possesses over one hundred - as great unmoving bastions of tradition. But as he journeys among favourites old and new, he discovers buildings and communities that have been in constant upheaval for a thousand years. Here are stories of the monarchs and bishops who ordered the building of these massive but unstable structures, the masons whose genius brought them into being, the peasant labourers who erected (and died on) the scaffolding. We learn of rogue saints exploited by holy sinners, the pomp and prosperity that followed these ships of stone, the towns that grew up in their shadows, the impact of the Black Death, the Reformation and icon-smashing Puritanism, the revival brought about by the Industrial Revolution, and the hope and disillusion of two world wars.
Meeting believers and non-believers, architects and archaeologists, the cleaner who dusts the monuments and the mason who judges stone by its taste, we delve deep into the private lives and the uncertain future of these ever-voyaging Ships of Heaven.