Sacred Land – review
Sacred Land: Decoding Britain’s extraordinary past through its towns, villages and countryside, by Martin Palmer, March 2012, Piatkus, 368 pages, ISBN 978-0-7499-5292-1. RRP £16.99 (paperback), £8.49 (ebook)
Sacred Land, written by Martin Palmer, co-founder of The Alliance of Religions and Conservation and advisor to the UN on the environment and faiths, had me riveted. Having lived in town and country for many years, I thought that I knew much of what this book would cover; I soon came to realise that I had but scratched the surface.
The author concentrates on four types of ‘Sacred Place’. Religious places, sites of nature that cause us to realise that we are but a part of a greater whole, sites that history has made sacred such as battlefields, and places that, by some event in our lives, individuals consider being a sacred place.
In our village, several hundred years ago, the main settlement moved away from the church, some of the grander houses still remaining there. Many theories have been put forward to account for this, but having read the book and looked at the map of our village it becomes clear. The main settlement was the poorer and so smellier area and so was located downwind.
Village pub names are also included as they often tell a greater story. The Bull is a popular name and I assumed that it was related to a nearby market. This was not correct as it could also refer to the Pope. If owned by a monastery or pilgrims’ hostel then it had quite probably gained permission from the Vatican in the form of a Papal Bull to sell alcohol. Come the Reformation though it was prudent to drop the Papal association.
I was aware the Houndsditch in London was the site of an old moat used to dump the bodies of dead dogs, but had no idea that the Church of St. Lawrence Jewry was so named as it was built in an attempt to convert the local Jewish community to Christianity. This attempt failed and the Jewish community was expelled in 1290.
Place names are also covered in depth. The word ‘Grange’ in Grange farm meant that it was owned by a monastery, ‘Glebe’ that it belonged to a local priest who received income from it. Temple Meads Railway Station in Bristol is on a site that was covered by meadows once owned by the Knights Templar. As is so often the case, the name remains while the area changes dramatically.
This well researched and written book tells of why so many of our rivers are named after Indian Goddesses, of what the design of churches revels about the changes in belief over the centuries, and how Britons knew that they were but a part of a greater, and so sacred, story.
Sacred Land contains all you need to decode the area that you live in. After reading it you will find it hard to look at your landscape in the same way as before. Highly recommended!