Victoria Clark is a writer of non-fiction who has has worked for The Observer in Romania, the former Yugoslavia and Russia from 1990 to 1996, reporting the Croatian, Bosnian and first Chechen wars. I first stumbled onto her book Why Angels Fall in an Australian second hand book shop over 25 years ago. I have read the book twice and. given enough time, I will probably read it again. To have any understanding of the Eastern European mind set this book is an essential read.
– Nov. 28 2000
Victoria Clark traveled across most of Eastern Europe to write Why Angels Fall. Having worked for six years as a journalist in Romania, the former Yugoslavia, and Russia, Clark was fascinated by the Eastern Orthodox churches and keen to unravel their histories and beliefs. To do so, she journeyed from Mount Athos, to Serbia, Macedonia, Greece, Romania, Russia, Cyprus, and finally Istanbul, interviewing clergy and other believers. We’re treated to a series of vivid cameos, a few of whose subjects glow almost visibly with holiness, a few terrify, and many show qualities rare and needed in the West. As Clark puts it, after the ancient split between eastern and western Christianity, “each side lost something it could not happily do without … at the risk of oversimplifying for the sake of clarity, western Christendom can be said to have lost its heart, eastern Christendom its mind.” Her keenness to explain Orthodoxy to Westerners stems from a fear that the continent is in the process of fracturing along a 1,000-year-old fault line, between the Catholic and Protestant west and the Orthodox east. The book combines high-quality, highly readable travel writing with a powerful mix of politics and religion. Most of all, perhaps, it demonstrates the power of history, and of different peoples’ conflicting versions of history. Again and again, Clark finds the present in the grip of the past. In Serbia, for example, she cannot escape the legends surrounding the destruction of the Serbs’ medieval empire in 1389, and the death of the venerated Prince Lazar: “the battle of Kosovo’s interruption of Serbia’s golden greatness has become a cataclysm to rival man’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden in the minds of Serbs…. Prince Lazar is the key to understanding the Serbs’ deep conviction that, however many wars they initiate, they remain a nation of victims and martyrs.” –David Pickering, Amazon.co.uk
Hardcover – Dec 31 2004
Just before the year 1000, a young Viking named Thorvald turned his back on the pagan gods of his fathers to preach the Christian gospel. But his Icelandic countrymen mocked and outlawed him. Abandoning his homeland, Thorvald embarked on an epic journey to the heart of all medieval world maps, Jerusalem. A thousand years later, Victoria Clark embarked on the same journey to discover to what extent the dramatic changes and conflicts sweeping Western Europe a millennium ago still resonate today. The Far-Farers is both the story of this twenty-first-century journey and a history of eleventh-century western Christendom.
In this remarkable book Clark illuminates a group of influential eleventh-century characters Thorvald, emperors of eastern and western Christendom, abbots, saints, princesses, Crusaders who form links in a historical chain extending down the century and all the way from Iceland to the Holy Land. Western Europe was struggling to unite then, expanding rapidly and changing utterly. Warfare, peacekeeping, multinational monasticism, institutional power struggles, mass pilgrim travel, and rising religious fundamentalism were a few salient characteristics of this world more like our own than we might imagine. The twenty-first-century people Clark encountered as she traveled through Iceland, central and Western Europe, the Balkans, Turkey, and the Middle East cast fresh light on both worlds. In the ancient capital of Poland, a young Catholic priest scorns the idea of Europe uniting in the name of human rights instead of Christ. At the Crusader stronghold of Krak les Chevaliers, a Syrian playboy highlights the deep and widening gulf between the West and Islam. A richly evocative and beautifully written work, The Far-Farers is neither conventional history nor travel, but a powerful and authoritative demonstration of our enduring connection with the distant past.
“Holy Fire invades the church, a fast-breeding light transfiguring faces, transforming the dark stone space. I hear gasps and cheers and sobs and tears. The emotion is overwhelming, the heat suffocating . . .’
Every Easter the ‘miracle’ of the Holy Fire is enacted in front of hundreds of the faithful in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. For centuries, Orthodox Christian pilgrims have made the arduous journey to witness it: the proof they need that God favors them far above all other Christians, as well as Jews and Moslems. Holy Fire presents the unending battle waged by various denominations of Christian churchmen for their savior’s empty tomb as the microcosm of centuries of wider Christian power struggles. Victoria Clark deftly weaves history, reportage and religion into a fluid and fascinating account that includes the aggressive campaigns of medieval Crusaders, the empire-building of the nineteenth-century European powers, Britain’s decision to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine in 1917, and today’s zealous, though unlikely, champions of Israel’s cause, the Christian Zionists. She explores the contribution that the Christian world has made to the unfolding tragedy of the Holy Land – at a time when it has never been more urgent for the West to see itself as others see it.
In Innocents Abroad (1869) Mark Twain wrote of the various Christian groups who had chapels in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre: “It has been proven conclusively that they can not worship together around the grave of the Saviour of the World in peace.” Little has changed, and journalist Clark traces the historical reasons why this is so. Skillfully weaving narrative about contemporary Jerusalem and Israel with a history of the political and religious wrangling over the places deemed holy by Christians, Jews and Muslims, Clark’s book reads like a thriller. She follows the various Christian claims to the land (Orthodox and Roman Catholic) as well as the international ones (the Ottoman Empire and the more contemporary interests of England, France, Russia and the United States) from the time of Constantine up to the creation of the state of Israel. Though her personal dislike for evangelicals mars the book slightly, readers will come to understand why small incidents, such as an Egyptian Copt sitting in the Ethiopian section of the rooftop patio of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, can erupt in violence, and why so many nations today continue to take sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts. ………. Amazon Books
I currently have this book on my wish list.
Post-script: After reading Victoria Clark’s books the temptation to go further down the Christian “rabbit hole” was just too overwhelming. So much so that I had to re-read some recent Irish history ….
by Niall O’Dowd
Theocracies are never a good idea. Just look at the recent news coming out of Iran. The amalgamation of Church and state seems to be a recipe for pain and violence. It was in Ireland and it continues to be so in Iran. This is an important book about the Irish theocracy of the last 100 years. It is slightly off topic from Victoria Clark’s books but not by much. The historical threads of 2,000 years of Christianity have been played out in the history of the Irish Republic. The very recent demise of the Irish theocracy demonstrates that even in the most entrenched circumstances there is possibilities for progressive change.
“It’s not your father’s Ireland. Not anymore. This is a story of a modern revolution in Ireland told by the founder of Irish Central, Irish America magazine, and The Irish Voice newspaper.
In a May 2019 countrywide referendum, Ireland voted overwhelmingly to make abortion legal; three years earlier, it had done the same with same-sex marriage, becoming the only country in the world to pass such a law by universal suffrage. In 2018 the visit by Pope Francis to Ireland saw protests and a fraction of the emphatic welcome that Pope John Paul had seen forty years earlier. There have been two female heads of state since 1990, the first two in Ireland’s history. Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, an openly gay man of Indian heritage, declared that “a quiet revolution had taken place.” It had. For nearly all of its modern history, Ireland was Europe’s most conservative country. The Catholic Church was its most powerful institution and held power over all facets of Irish life. But as scandal eroded the Church’s hold on Irish life, a new Ireland has flourished. War in the North has ended. EU membership and an influx of American multinational corporations have helped Ireland weather economic depression and transform into Europe’s headquarters for Apple, Facebook, and Google. With help from prominent Irish and Irish American voices like historian and bestselling author Tim Pat Coogan and the New York Times’s Maureen Dowd, A New Ireland tells the story of a modern revolution against all odds.”