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05 November 2021

This week’s selection: a pilgrimage around European cathedrals, a beginner’s first year at the allotment, and memoirs of church from the 1950s to the present

Europe’s 100 Best Cathedrals by Simon Jenkins (Penguin, £30 (Church Times SPECIAL OFFER PRICE £25); 978-0-241-45263-9).

“In Europe's 100 Best Cathedrals, Simon Jenkins has travelled the continent — from Chartres to York, Cologne to Florence, Toledo to Moscow and Stockholm to Seville — to illuminate old favourites and highlight new discoveries. Beautifully illustrated with colour photographs throughout, this joyous exploration of Europe's history tells the stories behind these wonders, showing the cathedral's central role in the European imagination. Readers will be inspired to make their own pilgrimage to all one hundred of them.”

This Blessed Plot: What I learned from my allotment by Hazel Southam (Canterbury Press £12.99 (Church Times SPECIAL OFFER PRICE £10.39); 978-1-78622-342-5).

“Gardening and growing has never been so popular, nor has the awareness of why we need to do it been so acute. When Hazel Southam took on an overgrown and neglected strip of ground in a local council allotment, she had nothing more than beginner’s enthusiasm and fond memories of her late father’s passion for growing. In This Blessed Plot, she relates with humour, wry observation, and poignancy the story of her first year as an allotment holder. With Hazel, we feel the sheer effort of clearing the ground of debris and patiently nourishing the exhausted soil, the camaraderie and unexpected kindness of strangers, the pleasures of mending and making do, the miracle of seeds sprouting, and the problem of what do to with so much lettuce. This Blessed Plot speaks to the zeitgeist that is gardening and mental and emotional health. But it goes further and reflects gently on spiritual health too, on friendship, generosity, wellbeing, and our mutual dependence on creation and each other. Amusing, perceptive and wise, This Blessed Plot is for anyone who has an interest in gardening.”


Church Going Gone: A biography of religion, doubt and faith by Brian Mountford (Christian Alternative, £14.99 (£13.49); 978-1-78904-812-4).

“In this colourful memoir, from 1950s childhood to the Covid crisis, Brian Mountford describes his life as a priest, which has spanned a period of immense social change and seen the secularisation of Britain to the point where 52 per cent of the population say they have ‘no religion’. Opening with a vibrant account of London in the ‘60s, he moves to Cambridge college life in the ’70s, Suburbia in the ’80s, and thirty years as vicar of the “most visited parish church in England”, the University Church, Oxford. Rich in humour and anecdote, he unpacks his liberal theological ideas on the way, addressing questions such as God, the meaning of life, sexual ethics, and the relationship between doubt and faith. A central idea is that the abandonment of organised religion has not eradicated spiritual questioning and, following Philip Larkin's poem Church Going, from which the book takes its title, people of all ages are forever ‘surprising/A hunger in (themselves) to be more serious.’ Both the story and the essay content will fascinate many, many more people than actually go to church.”


Selected by Frank Nugent, of the Church House Bookshop, which operates the Church Times Bookshop.

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