Review of the Zondervan Christian Travelers Guides from the Western Catholic Reporter 4 June, 2001. For more information and to see the original go to the Home Page.
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Week of June 4, 2001
Travel guides for Christians
Chesterton once said that history is the democracy of the dead. If this is true, the dead are now disenfranchised.
Popular game show participants and audiences miss such key questions as to the interrelationships as teacher and pupil of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. At the same time participants and audiences are fully familiar with the most arcane aspects of long forgotten modern movies, and cancelled TV series.
It is the general ignorance of history, particularly Christian history, which prompts Universityof Calgary religion professor Irving Hexham to edit and participate in writing a series of books, The Christian Travelers Guides, on sites in Europe which contribute to the cultural life of Europe and the world.
These are not ordinary "traveller's guides" with hotels and restaurants listed and brief descriptions of historical sites. Hexham's guides aim particularly at an evangelical audience, but their appeal is equally to a general readership interested in deepening an understanding of Christian history.
The guide is of particular interest to Albertans, since Hexham who writes on Great Britain and Germany and is assisted by U of C historian Lothar Kope (Germany), U of C historian Mark Konnert (France), U of C and Saint Mary's College art historian and award winning teacher David Bershad (Italy). Additional guidebooks are planned for other countries such as Ireland and Spain.
Each book begins with a short historical overview and a brief account of the literature, music, architecture, and art of each area and a more developed account of 10 key sites followed by 40 to 60 other sites. Maps of each country are provided with key sites identified. Architectural maps of important churches are included.
The French volume written by historian Mark Konnert assisted by Peter and Carine Barrs gives a more extended historical and cultural overview with emphasis on such sites as Mont-Saint-Michel.
Of particular value are short biographical notes on people such as poets Charles Peguy and Clement Marot, painter Paul Cezanne , and philosopher-mathematician Blaise Pascal associated with particular sites. The historical overview is necessarily short and hence some over-simplification appears in characterizing French Catholicism as identical with a cult of Mary.
The German guide written by Hexham and Kope is particularly helpful in identifying some of the great German intellectual figures of the evangelical and non-evangelical traditions such as Hildegard of Bingen, Friedrich Schleiermacher, and Rudolph Bultman. The biographical inserts add a personal dimension to rich descriptions of particular sites.
The sharp criticisms of the giant of German thought Martin Heidegger as a plagiarist calls for further documentation. The identification of Edith Stein could include her entrance into the Carmelite order rather than the Benedictines.
The Guide to England, Scotland, and Wales is written in an accessible manner by Hexham himself and reflect his personal acquaintance with the various religious traditions of Great Britain. The evangelical tradition and its key figures are represented in men such as William Booth.
Of particular interest, as well, are the literary contributions of key poets, key novelists and important Christian writers such as C.S. Lewis. The association of sites with the literary figures enriches this volume enormously and puts it out of the ordinary in comparison to regular guidebooks.
Of special interest to a Catholic audience is the guide to Italy written by art historian David Bershad assisted by Carolina Mangone. Bershad has established a deserved reputation as a teacher and lecturer at the U of C and St. Mary's College. His illustrated lectures to popular audiences have enriched the understanding of cultural history in Calgary.
His volume on Italy reflects his long years of devoted study and travel in Italy. More time in this volume is devoted necessarily to Rome and to Florence, hence a smaller number of other sites are covered.
The spiritual significance of such a site as Orvieto with its connection to the Feast of Corpus Christi is only one of many accounts that illustrate his own lifetime of travel in Italy both as an art historian and as a spiritual pilgrim.
The volumes are published by Zondervan, a division of Harper Collins, and are available at Christian bookstores. These volumes are key resources for Christians travelling in Europe whether in evangelical or in non-evangelical branches of Christianity and for those interested in the Christian background for modern history, political and social.
Those interested in background for art, literature, architecture, philosophy and theology will find the volumes insightful and rewarding reading, whether planning a trip to Europe or not. The authors are unusually well equipped to write such guides, which in Hexham's words are "intended to awaken a sense of awe at what God has done."
The guides are of particular value for Albertans, since the authors' lectures and writings are accessible in local universities and colleges.
A wag once said that a new volume he was reviewing filled a much-needed gap. It must be said of these volumes that they are needed to fill a gap in books that make European Christian background more accessible to a general and non-scholarly readership.
(Ernie McCullough is adjunct professor of philosophy at St. Mary's College in Calgary.)
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