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Review of the Zondervan Christian Travelers Guides from the Ottawa Citizen16 June 2001. For more information and to see the original go to the Ottawa Citizen Home Page

Saturday 16 June 2001

Saturday 16 June 2001

Heavenly guides

Series of books details Christian heritage and highlights in each country

Bob Harvey
The Ottawa Citizen

Martin Luther's statue graces the market square in Wittenberg, Germany, where he launched the Protestant Reformation.

Durham Cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and houses the tombs of early English saints, St. Bede and St. Cuthbert.

Fountains Abbey, in Ripon, North Yorkshire is the largest monastic ruin in Britain. Before it was destroyed in the Reformation, it was one of the wealthiest in Europe.

Fountains Abbey, in Ripon, North Yorkshire is the largest monastic ruin in Britain. Before it was destroyed in the Reformation, it was one of the wealthiest in Europe.

(The Christian Travelers Guide: France)

(The Christian Travelers Guide: Italy)

(The Christian Travelers Guide: Germany)

A group of Calgary academics have penned what is believed to be the first-ever series of travel books written by Canadians: a Christian traveller's guide.

Irving Hexham, a professor of religion at the University of Calgary, began looking for a publisher in 1992, but could not interest anyone until Zondervan, one of the largest Christian publishing houses in the U.S., took on the project.

The first four pocket-size books in the series, on Britain, France, Germany and Italy, went on sale in April, and sold a total of 10,000 copies in the first two months.

Now other books are being planned on Ireland, Turkey, the Mediterranean Islands, Spain, Portugal, Scandinavia and the Caribbean.

Hexham says the time is ripe for such a series because so many people are searching for their spiritual roots.

"A lot of people are really seeing the need to root themselves. They are taking an interest in genealogy, and they are quite proud of their background, but they don't know anything of the history.

"For many people, Christianity is part of that background," he said.

The series was written primarily for travellers, but is already being purchased as reference books by Catholic school boards, and public libraries, said Hexham.

He said that although most Canadians rarely attend church, they still identify with Christianity. Yet they have lost their sense of Christianity's impact on history and on art, literature, architecture, art and other aspects of their cultural identity.

Each book in the travel series begins with an overview of the country's history and its culture, and a list of the country's top 10 Christian heritage sites. For Britain, the top site is London; France's most-visited site is Mont-Saint-Michel, the 1,000-year-old monastery perched dramatically on a rocky outcrop along the Normandy coast. Then the guide gets into detail on major cities like Paris or Berlin, and areas like Durham and Northumbria where some of Britain's oldest churches are located, or Eisleben in eastern Germany, where you can still see Martin Luther's deathbed.

Hexham said that when he travelled he was constantly frustrated by the lack of adequate guide books.

"There were guides for Wiccans, guides for Jews, guides for women, but no guides for Christians, except in Rome and Jerusalem.

"Everyone who goes to Europe inevitably visits some cathedrals and other Christian historical sites. But the general travel guides contained all sorts of mistakes, and tended to emphasize the bad things about Christianity," he said.

Hexham is the general editor of the series, and grew up in Britain and studied in Germany, so he wrote the guides to Britain and Germany, with the help of a professor of German, Lothar Henry Kope.

David Bershad, an art historian at the University of Calgary, wrote the guide to Italy, with the help of his Italian-born wife, Carolina Mangone, while University of Calgary historian Mark Konnert co-authored the volume on France with Peter and Carine Barrs, who are associated with the Labrie (Christian) Fellowship in Switzerland.

The central theme of the books is Christianity's contribution to Europe and the world, and Hexham says they point out many trends that may upset current notions of the past.

Today Canadians pride themselves on our multiculturalism, but past societies were more multicultural than we think, he said.

"Medieval Europe was a mixture. In Germany, you find English missionaries all over the place. In England, you find German missionaries. And there were all kinds of movements of peoples. The problems we face today are not new," said Hexham.

Pre-Norman Britain also had its own women's movement. St. Margaret of Scotland died in 1093 while successfully leading the defence of of Edinburgh Castle against Norman invaders. Alfred the Great put his devoutly Christian daughter, Aethefleda, in charge of the city of Chester, where she built defensive walls and defended the city against the Viking invasion in the ninth century.

"You don't realize the role women played until you read the accounts," said Hexham.

The Christian Travelers Guides sell for $25 and are available at Salem Storehouse Christian Book Store on Merivale Road, and at the Chapters store in the Byward Market.

Bob Harvey is the Citizen's religion editor.


Permission to republish is being sought from The Ottawa Citizen
Photographs supplied by Irving Hexham