Ships of Heaven: The Private Life of Britain’s Cathedrals by Christopher Somerville - review by Christopher Howse

Christopher Howse

Steeple Chase

Ships of Heaven: The Private Life of Britain’s Cathedrals


Doubleday 340pp £20 order from our bookshop

Not only does Armagh have two cathedrals, but they are both called St Patrick’s. One, belonging to the Church of Ireland, crouches on Druim Saileach (or Willow Ridge). Here, some think, St Patrick built a church in AD 445. The other, the Catholic cathedral, stands half a mile away on Tealach na Licci (or Sandy Hill).

In his friendly wander around twenty-one British cathedrals, Christopher Somerville, the walking correspondent of The Times, passes the hard test of giving life to buildings that most readers have never visited. I hadn’t been to Armagh; I should like to go now.

Things at Armagh are not as one might imagine. I might have expected that the Church of Ireland cathedral had preserved its medieval heritage in an agreeably mouldering state and that the 19th-century Catholic cathedral would cock a snook at it in hideous missionary Gothic. In fact, reverses

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

OUP Back to the Shops

Follow Literary Review on Twitter