YOU know it is going to be one of those homilies when the
prebendary, on his annual cathedral outing, climbs into the pulpit,
cracks a joke that is not funny, misquotes the day's Gospel
reading, and reminisces about an occasion that he clearly did not
Do you see the lay clerks' heads disappearing, one by one, under
the music desks? That is because they are checking the cricket
score on their iPhones, updating their Facebook statuses, or
grabbing a few minutes' kip in an attempt to shift that stubborn
hangover. And the organist? Having a shifty smoke on the roof.
But all is not lost. If you are facing a stinker of a sermon,
you could do no better than arm yourself with Rice's Church
Primer, and teach yourself a thing or two about the things to
be seen in some of our historic cathedrals and churches.
As your eyes wander, you know that you know the difference
between a round arch and a pointed one, but are they equilateral,
ogival, or stilted? You know that the windows are in the Decorated
Style, but do they use trefoils, quatrefoils, or cinquefoils? And
is that a mouchette, or a dagger; a mullion, or a
Generously illustrated by the author, and divided under such
headings as "Grammar", "Vocab", and "Examplars", this successor to
Matthew Rice's Architectural Primerof 2009 will tell you
all you need to know about the architectural elements of churches
and their fittings.
With a master's skill, Rice takes his readers on a whistle-stop
romp through the various British church-building developments of
the past 1000 years, in full and glorious technicolour.
THERE are vaults: and not just barrel, groin, and rib, but
liernes, with tiercerons and quadripartite intersections. Columns -
having previously come in Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian - now come
to life with astragals, fillets, and fleurons, and toruses,
scotiae, and volutes. Decorated spires come complete with crockets,
lucarnes, and gablets, and Baroque towers with quoins, lobes, and
dentils. Georgian preaching-boxes come with drums, and - perhaps my
favourite - Diocletian windows.
The nuances of the neo-Gothic and neo-Classical architecture of
the various Victorian revivals are brought out beautifully - who
knew about triglyphs and stylobates? - and so are the various less
elegant, but whimsically delightful, mishmashes produced by
architects with their hearts in heaven and their heads in the
Rice has less to say on the Modern period - and who can blame
him? While he notes and illustrates some laudable exceptions, his
general observation that "the post-war Liturgical Movement calls
for an auditoria-style church that decisively rejects the entire
legacy of church architecture" rings true.
What were they thinking, those architects of that brave new
world? Did they think that, with soaring cranes, rolled steel, and
concrete, they could better, in a few short months, the buildings
that took their forebears centuries to create, with stone, chisels,
"The Church has resorted to the lowest common denominator," Rice
bemoans, "in this, the least productive and least pleasing era of
This is a glorious book. And it is funny, too. The architectural
drawings have details that make them instantly human, and will make
you chuckle - such as the "rather heathen church visitors" at St
Mary's, Stoke Newington, or the Georgian rector taking a funeral
from his elegant outdoor shelter while everyone else gets
For anyone with even a vague interest in churches, this is a
must-have. Give it to your godchildren; buy it for the curate. For
clerics dealing with leaking roofs and crumbling pinnacles, it
would be a cheerful vade mecum with which to be armed
before the inevitable architect's report. And take it with you the
next time you go to the cathedral - just in case.
Rice's Church Primer by Matthew Rice is published by
Bloomsbury at £14.99 (Church Times Bookshop special offer
Dr Serenhedd James is Visiting Tutor in Ecclesiastical
History at St Stephen's House, Oxford.