'What's the use of a book without pictures or conversation?' asks Alice. Well, this glossy large-format book at least has plenty of pictures. And even if some will look mainly at the photographs and sit loose to the text, why not? I have bought many a book just to enjoy the images.
I spoke about 'my' book. I must at once nuance what it says on the cover. I am not the author of all of its text or images, more like the mysterious Mr W. H., the 'onlie begetter' of Shakespeare's Sonnets. I had an idea which caught on. A lot of talented people have played a part in its realisation over the two years we have worked on this project. I pay tribute to them and thank them. It's only really 'mine' in the sense that I have long wanted to have something attractive and accessible that would celebrate the North East's Christian past and how it lives on. I didn't want to focus simply on famous buildings like Durham Cathedral and great artefacts like the Lindisfarne Gospel Book. There are many less well known, even secret, places that tell their own moving story about a living Christian presence right up to today.
I have loved writing my sections of text and travelling up and down the North East to photograph for the book. The timing is deliberate: we wanted to contribute something to this summer's exhibition of the Lindisfarne Gospels in the University's library on the Durham World Heritage Site. The Gospels are so emblematic of the North East that it seemed apt to publish a book that set it in this larger regional context.
But Landscapes is not confined to the 'classical' Saxon and Norman periods. We wanted to portray the rich Christian heritage of this part of England in the broadest possible way, from Saxon shrines to urban parish churches, and from remote Methodist chapels to the self-conscious splendour of the legacy of the Prince Bishops. We wanted to reflect how landscapes and townscapes have both influenced how Christian communities have been shaped, and how these communities in turn have shaped their settings.
In the book, I wrote:
We need to know our history, read our landscapes, understand our communities. We need to sit still in our north-east’s sacred spaces and listen to what they have to tell us. This book is offered as a contribution to this all-important conversation with our past, present and future.
The title Landscapes of Faith implies something that is visible and tangible, that can be travelled to and enjoyed for all that delights and inspires. But the true ‘landscapes of faith’ are those of the mind and heart of individual human beings and the communities they belong to. The places we visit in this book are signs of this life of faith, hope and love that despite the depredations of secularising modernity persists across the North East as it does everywhere.
It continues to express itself with the same conviction and vitality as it has always done. The saints, long dead, still speak to us of a message they described as good news, a life-changing gospel. They would have understood the phrase ‘landscapes of faith’ and wanted us to invest it with new meaning for our own times.
I hope that this book may make a small contribution to what I see as the important task of rescuing the idea of 'heritage' from a dangerous obsession with simply preserving the 'past' at all costs. Instead, we need it to be a living entity with surprising power not simply to give us pleasure, education and enjoyment, but to touch our lives in ways that are both inspiring and life-changing.
ISBN 978 1 906507 89 3. www.tmiltd.com