Book Review – Churches by Judith Dupre

Title: Churches
Author: Judith Dupre
Format: Hardcover/Coffee Table Book
Published: 2001


For this review, BitB gets a first: a coffee table book.  This is a huge book – ginormous.  Almost 17″ tall. (16.4×12.4, according to Amazon, and almost an inch thick.)  I picked it up because the image on the cover got my attention and it has a bit of a unique feature in that the cover opens like doors.  I liked the detail.

Basically, this is a book that tells you about churches and shows a bunch of pictures.  Each church listing includes scripture at the top and basic info at the bottom – architect, years built, denomination, and also lists the church’s claim to fame, if you will – if the church has one.

I wanted to like it.  I wanted to love it.  I wanted to look at this and lose myself in the architecture and be transported all over the world.  I wanted to see something that I may not have been able to experience otherwise.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case at all.  First of all, most of the churches in this are Catholic, with little claim to fame.  So what you basically have is a bunch of well-known churches with pretty stained glass.  Not that that’s a bad thing, but this isn’t a book about Catholic Cathedrals, so I was hoping for more of a variety.  Besides, I can list ten churches off the top of my head that I would have loved to see depicted in this book.   There’s nothing cool like the World’s Smallest Church (which, depending on who you listen to is Catholic in Iowa [seats 8], nondenominational on an island in a NY pond [seats 2], or in about 20 other US states…  The one I was thinking of was  The Little Church on the island of Guernsey), beautiful old ruins in Europe, etc.  In fact, I pulled up Wikipedia’s list of world’s oldest churches and most of them aren’t anywhere in this book. (The only one from the ‘Early Christian’ category that is in the book was rebuilt in the last 500 years…)

Hell (pun intended) most of the world isn’t even represented.  Almost all of the churches in this book are American, with few exceptions – Jerusalem and Vatican City, London…  The  coolest churches in the world, IMO, are carved out of rock in Africa – think Queen of Sheba in your biblical stories – and they showed one photo of one of the seven.  Other than that, there’s nothing in Africa, Asia, or most of South America.  There’s absolutely nothing Australian in here at all.

I wanted ruins and variety and whatever else.  I wanted history.  I wanted to see the whole buildings – the Air Force Cadet Chapel, for instance, houses multiple worship spaces, but the photo only shows us one.

Here’s my problem.  Yes, I know it’s a coffee table book, but this thing is huge.  It’s bigger than most of the ones the library had or any of the ones I own.  And it’s written like a nice, hardbound, informative book would be.  But in coffee table format.  Which made it hard, if not impossible, to read comfortably.  But the size didn’t do any service to this book.  I would have rather seen a large hardback with twice as many photos and several extra locations.

My favorite parts were the most unique ones.  Show me more of Eastern Europe.  Show me more unique places (such as the only Shaker community in the world).  And show me in a format that actually does the material a service.  No way I twisted, turned, or tried to hold this book  was comfortable.  The best I could manage was to sit with it between my legs and curl the pages up to try to read them while I leaned over the book.  I eventually gave up and just looked at all the pictures a few times.

Honestly, the book left me feeling disappointed and it just fell flat.  I’m giving it a two out of five, and I’ll probably go look for a better one when I take this one back.


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