A magnificent contribution to our understanding of England's history and current state through an exploration of its churches
For a thousand years or so churches have been at the heart of things. Traditionally, churches were places where we marked turning-points in our lives. The parish church was where your parents took you to be baptised, and you took your parents to be buried after their deaths. In between, the church was a social and spiritual focus. But not now. Last year fewer than two citizens in a hundred attended an Anglican church. Many people have never been inside one. And since the underlying meaning of 'church' is its people, the buildings are fast becoming husks, outwardly part of the local scene but functionally mysterious.
A similar combination of familiarity and unawareness surrounds the connection between Church and nation. The UK has no national faith, but for reasons most people have forgotten the Church is woven into its government. The Church of England passes its own laws. Bishops sit in the House of Lords. About a third of England's state-funded schools are faith schools. New monarchs are initiated by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The monarch is supreme governor of a Church of England. Coins in your pocket tell you (in what was once the international language of the western Church that hardly anyone now reads) that she is FIDEI DEFENSATRIX and reigns 'by the grace of God'.
Richard Morris has spent fifty years studying churches - their imagery, why they are where they are, how they were built, how they were used, where their materials came from, the dead beneath their floors, their graffiti. EVENSONG: PLACES, PEOPLE AND THR CHURCH IN ENGLAND will use case studies from his experience involving an interplay of myth, science and faith to explore connections between churches in history and people today. Alongside encounters with saints, medieval doors that still swing on their hinges, stories of secret passages, or sounds of a Tudor organ re-voiced from bits, people loom large: archbishops, parishioners, bell-ringers, musicians, gravediggers and beggars. Spanning two thousand years, linking past and present, people and places, EVENSONG is a magnificent contribution to our understanding of the nation's history and its current state.
Richard Morris is emeritus professor of archaeology at the University of Huddersfield. He began his career working on excavations under York Minster in 1971. Since then he has worked as a university teacher, as director of the Council for British Archaeology, as director of the Leeds Institute for Medieval Studies, and as a writer and composer. His book Churches in the Landscape (1989) is widely regarded as a pioneering classic. Time's Anvil: England, Archaeology and the Imagination was longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize and shortlisted for the Current Archaeology Book of the Year Award. He is completing a new biography of the aeronautical engineer Barnes Wallis, and working on a social history of interwar England from the air.