About me

I have a vocation, and it’s to do with places; with communicating, enthusing, analyzing – in short, extollagising – about the nature of ‘old places’, and what makes them tick. I get especially excited about the sacredness of place, and the human place-making that results from it: a po-faced way of saying I love religious architecture in particular. English medieval churches are my academic specialism.

In any case, this a calling without a career structure. Writing lies at the heart of it, but like many writers I do other things which help earn a living and which arise from the expertise I’ve gathered on the way. But these, for me, are not add-ons: lecturing, teaching and tour-leading, academic research: each is an essential element in what is a seamless and overlapping range of concerns.

You might have come across my books, such as Cathedral: the great English cathedrals and the world that made them, published by Constable in 2007; The Secret Language of Sacred Spaces, published in late 2013; the Shire book of Medieval Church Architecture, which came out in July 2014. I am currently writing a major work on the British landscape: Stones of Britain: Geology and History in the British Landscape, slated for publication in 2023. You might also have come across my BBCTV documentary, How to Build a Cathedral, which was widely praised; I still broadcast from time to time, for example on BBC Radio 4’s Beyond Belief. I have co-edited or authored a number of academic volumes and papers, chiefly on west country churches, such as Bristol cathedral and the former collegiate church at Westbury-on-Trym.

Among other things, I lead tours for Martin Randall Travel and others; and am Cathedral Historian at Bristol cathedral, following several years as a Lay Canon ands Keeper of the Fabric there. I wrote, and now teach, an online course in English Medieval Cathedral Architecture run by the University of Oxford’s continuing education department. I am also a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London and an accredited Arts Society lecturer. My piece of journalism about North Korea (east Asia plays a big part in my life: my wife is the Chinese author Liu Hong) for the London Review of Books some years ago was shortlisted for the David Watt Memorial Prize.

  1. federico turri
    March 4, 2011 at 9:50 pm

    Dear Jon I had the chance to watch your BBCTV documentary, How to build a cathedral, and I so love it that since is no more avaiable on BBC website I would be interested in buying it. Are you by chance selling it? or do you know where is possible to buy it?
    Kind regards Federico
    PS: how can I buy your book from you? I can’t find any page for order and pay

    • March 7, 2011 at 9:19 am

      Thank you very much, Federico for this kind message. The BBC never made the programme available commercially, but my book is easy to get at. Amazon UK stocks it for example, or I can sell you copies direct for UKP 27.50 plus postage and packing – this works out as another 8 UKP when posting witin the UK but perhaps you are not in Great Britain? I can find out how much overseas postage would be if you tell me where you are and are interested in this option. It’s more expensive than Amazon but I can sign it for you! And you’d have to pay the old-fashioned way, by cheque or a bank transfer.

      Thanks once again,


      • Federico Turri
        March 7, 2011 at 7:56 pm

        Jon, I’m italian but I leave in London therefore I have no problem to pay with bank transfer. Just send me your bank details so when you receive the money you can send me your book. My address is [Edited to protect Frederico’s identity].
        Kind Regards

  2. August 24, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    Jon, I wish there were more pictures or diagrams of the places you talk about.
    All the best,
    Hock Tjoa

    • September 9, 2012 at 12:22 pm

      Couldn’t agree more. If only I had time! I do try…

  3. liam clarke
    October 25, 2014 at 8:46 am

    Dear Jon Cannon: It looks as if I pushed the right button.
    I am about to get a copy of your ‘Cathedral’ as I am currently doing a course on art history and about to write an essay on Salisbury Cathedral.
    I am especially interest in a man called Richard Poore who was a Bishop there when the building of the cathedral was started. I believe that you refer to Poore in your book and so look forward to reading your comments on him.
    However I am finding it very difficult to get material about him. He is asserted, by some, usually in a couple of sentences, to be hugely influential in the very architecture of the building – keeping it in line with his reformist views on liturgy. Apart from finding it difficult to see how this would be feasible, I need to read more about Poore but, given that he is asserted to be a kind if English Abbott Suger, there seems little evidence for this??

    If you could spare a couple of minutes to comment on this it would be appreciated.

    Many thanks


    • October 29, 2014 at 8:38 am

      Thanks for your interest, Liam, and apologies for the slow reply — I’ve been away. Yes, this is often asserted to be the case, and your scepticism is wise. In this case I agree with Poore’s shaping influence, though all the evidence is circumstantial, so if in your essay you had a go at demolishing the idea that would not be out of order (people have done just this with Suger)! You should find the main arguments in my book, with references: you’ll need to go further into the academic literature to see why people think this about Poore and his circle. Look at Sarah Brown’s book on Salisbury, and that by Kidson and Cooke — the references will be in my bibliography. Also have a look at Poore’s biography in the ODNB (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography), if you have access to it (many public libraries do) — that will give you the most authoritative and up to date account of his life, again fully referenced. I think, too, that the cathedral itself publishes some specialist guidebooks on the subject, if you can get there. The key argument is a) that the building of the new cathedral and Poore’s revision of its constitution and liturgy occur at exactly the same time; and b) that some aspects of the building’s design seem to relate to specific requirements, particularly of the constitution (eg the number of altars). The sense that Salisbury is aesthetically a kind of ‘model cathedral’ is a strong one, but harder to define, or to be sure that this is deliberate, or due to the influence of the then-bishop.

  4. liam clarke
    October 30, 2014 at 1:24 pm

    Thank you so much: extremely helpful. As a beginner its always tempting take the affirmative approach I feel, but you have given me some confidence to think about taking a more sceptical view. Now for your book and I will of course cite your work as appropriate. If OK, I will let you know how I get on?

    Best from Liam

  5. October 30, 2014 at 6:05 pm

    Do. You may also be interested to know that I’m giving a talk on ‘Salisbury cathedral and modernity’ as a fundraiser for the Friends of St Thomas in Sarum College, Salisbury at 7.30pm on 20 November. It’ll touch much on the long-term consequences of the achievements of Poore and men like him. Tickets are £9, I believe.

  6. Michael Blatt
    September 15, 2016 at 10:52 am

    Hi Mr. Jon Cannon,only one year passed since I stepped in Hereford´s Winchester´s Salisbury´s and Gloucester´s churches and cathedrals TRULY wonders of the world and maybe the best of all England has to offer. Whom can I descibe these profound feelings deep in one´s soul who knows like you? The consequence of this overwhelming discovery of mine was to take part on Gloucester´s 3 Choirs Festival and to have a short visit of Worcester and Hereford as well.In this moment I hold in my hands your book CATHEDRAL which I´m going to study but I ought to visit England and its Cathedrals again – taken by the hands of a lover like you Jon Cannon?It´s a deam…Michael from Germany.

    • September 15, 2016 at 3:32 pm

      Thank you Michael. I’m delighted you are impressed by our cathedrals, especially as — if you have only seen Hereford, Winchester, Salisbury, Worcester and Gloucester — then the best is yet to come! It’s great to encounter such enthusiasm for what are indeed wonderful buildings. You are welcome to join one of my tours! Let me know if you would like to join my mailing list.

  7. Michael Blatt
    December 11, 2016 at 1:51 pm

    Hi Jon, it was only now to read your kind answer. I beg you pardon!Surprisingly fast reply of you, thank you very much! I´m not much used to all these current modern media but I keep on trying.Selfevidently I´m interested to take part on your mailing list.(Mightbe I just repeated my small letter today on a different place?)
    Next year´s big Cathedral tour with you will be not possible for us. Severe reasons, one is pecuniar.
    Gloucester Cathedral, the first in which I had the pleasure in taking part on Evensong – I will never forget.And your statement: “the best is yet to come” affirms my suspects and augments my curiosities to visit these places!The initial contact to christian cult´s architecture happend on St. James Trail 10 years ago starting on Via Podiensis. At that time I really fell in love with the Romanesque! Now England and it´s Cathedrals and fine Priory Churches again: an overwhelming second discovery of a unknown universe. The one and only and thinkable approach to this kind of religious architecture for me I think is the traditional way of a Christian pilgrim!(without being member of any church or religious organisation)
    What I would like to know is if one can find in England a comparable infrastructure like it is in France or Spain to support pilgrimage: where you can find every 24-28 kilometers a table, a roof and a bed for about 25 to 45 €.If this is the fact it would be in truth the correct manner for me to do further explorations?(And visit appropriate Jon Cannon´s lectures additionally?)
    I read about your personal visit in Germany: Very interesting for me as a native German the kind of impressions you got comparing Post-Second-War Germany with your fatherland, which suffered the German air raids but eventually there had been more of the historical substance to survive in England and Germany seems somehow weird to you, losing parts of it´s historical medeival soul?.
    My home is west of the river Rhine,Palatinate, which suffered a lot from different wars between Germans and French and the remains are a lot of fortresses (Burgen) which are ruins.I have no idea how the landscape could have looked before the destructions. The main cause of the ruins are not the decay of the times, it was the result of intended destructions of all those miserable wars, e.g. after ! the war of Orleans (Pfälzischer Erbfolgekrieg) of Louis IV or after ! the French revolution.
    Thanks a lot for your kind attention.Michael (Pilgerfahrer)

  8. December 12, 2016 at 10:14 am

    Thank you, Michael. It’s delightful that you are so taken with our medieval churches and cathedrals. Do keep on eye on these web pages as I am shortly to update them for tours in 2017, and as you will see in addition to the (expensive but wonderful) Cathedrals of England I do one-day tours that should suit any pocket! Do email me at jon_cannon@hotmail.com if you would like to discuss a private tour, or let me know if you would like to join my mailing list. As for pilgrimage, as far as I am aware there is no ‘pilgrim’ infrastructure in the UK to compare with the Carmine: such things collapsed with the C16 Reformation. However Walsingham has revived as a centre for pilgrimage and has pilgrim accommodation that is very good. Many parishes both Catholic and Anglican run pilgrimage there and arrange places to stay en route I think, usually with sympathetic local churches, ie it is quite an informal arrangement. I guess it’s even possible that some Anglican churches based in Germany organise them. I would add that there is no fixed pilgrimage route. If you are interested, perhaps to internet searches for the Anglican Shrine at Walsingham, who would be able to provide you with more information. Thank you for your interest, Jon.

  9. Keith russell Ogbourne family rushen
    May 22, 2022 at 10:11 pm

    Recently visited Ogbourne st.George church where my great grandmother and family come from absolutely delightful to find map of location of graves and their individuals which was incredible couldn’t begin to inform you of my thanks for your contributions well done 👍👍👍👍👌👌👌

    • May 23, 2022 at 7:36 am

      It’s a wonderful map! But nothing to do with me — I just wrote the church guide, but will pass your gratitude on.

  10. December 1, 2022 at 9:23 am

    Dear Jon
    Very much enjoyed (was captivated by) the talk the last night at Minal. We met briefly afterwards and you mentioned you had difficulty accessing Og St Andrew church. As Chairman of the Og St Andrew History Group I can easily arrange a visit, so do get in touch. See our updated histories of both the church and barrow on our website: http://www.osahg.org.uk.
    Bruce Fox

    • December 1, 2022 at 9:26 pm

      Thank you, Bruce. I’ve dropped you a line via the OSAHG website.

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