The author, an academic Oxford clergyman, knows his stuff and writes with reticence. He mentions the battle of Lepanto without using its name; he refers to the ‘new Cathedral of Saragossa’ without specifying whether he means the rebuilt Seo or the neighbouring basilica of El Pilar. Strangely at one point he says that the Victorian ecclesiologist Benjamin Webb was inhibited from exercising his orders for 16 years, when it was J.M. Neale (the author of ‘Good King Wenceslas’) that he means. Perhaps an editor supplied the wrong name when tidying a sentence.
There is a strong closing chapter on the post-war Coventry Cathedral, rising from the ashes of its predecessor as both symbol of peace and of the Church’s role in bringing it to the modern world. But overall this is a book that underdelivers on the lofty promise made by its title. It is at best a patchy and partial history of the global Christian church. The cast list is too short for such a universal claim, with Luther’s Reformation hardly meriting a mention, despite its profound impact on the way churches were arranged and decorated.