For many, running is more than just a physical activity; it's a form of meditation, a way to connect with nature, and an opportunity for self-discovery. But I also like to combine it with another hobby of mine: church architecture. For some people, Christmas time is the only time they venture into a church; I like to visit them all year round.
By accident rather than design, my upbringing was heavily influenced by the church. As a child I played the organ in the local methodist chapel. I went to a Christian ecumenical grammar school. My university college was a high church institution in the shadow of Durham Cathedral. While this didn’t make me particularly devout, it did leave me with an abiding interest in church architecture. If you’ve run with me, you’ll likely have seen me stop to take photos of any church we pass. These shots usually end up on my dedicated Insta page @onlychurches.
Church architecture is a rich and diverse tapestry of styles, reflecting the beliefs, cultures, and eras that have shaped Christianity. From soaring Gothic cathedrals to understated yet elegant Quaker meetinghouses, churches offer a unique glimpse into the past and a testament to human creativity. This morning it was a run to a church dedicated to St Sebastian, who is the patron saint of athletes and runners.
Combining running with church architecture can transform your exercise routine into an enriching historical and cultural experience. By incorporating church visits into your running routes, you'll not only enhance your physical fitness but also gain a deeper appreciation for the architectural heritage that surrounds you.
Sometimes I’ll come across churches entirely by chance on a long run or on a run in a new location. At the recent ASICS Frontrunner meet in Wales, our Sunday morning trail run took us past Llnatrisant, the Church of the Three Saints in Ceredigion. Over a hundred years old, it’s on the site of a medieval chapel, and early Christian burial monuments – some more than 1500 years old – are preserved there.
Other times, when visiting somewhere new, I’ll identify churches in the local area, using Google maps or an AI tool, then plan a route that connects them together or takes me past the most interesting ones. Many cities also have historical walking tours that can provide a brief overview of local church architecture. Older cities and towns may have many churches within a small distance. A 10k run around Bristol, Penrith or Dorchester can take you past several churches.
Of course, many churches are beautiful and/or interesting inside as well as out, and they are usually open to the public. You can break up a run by venturing inside to find out about the history of the building and take a look at the internal architecture, such a vaulted ceilings, stained glass windows and intricate carvings. If nothing else, most churches provide a place of quiet contemplation, where you can get your heart rate down between hard efforts.
Of course, I always take photos of the churches I see. I also like to guess the age of the building before looking it up. As I’ve learned more about different architectural styles, my guesses have become more accurate. The location within a town or village can also tell you something about how old it is and the history of the development of the settlement. While many churches are in the heart of the community, others stand apart, as though abandoned by modernity.
It's also possible to delve deeper into the history and significance of each church, by conducting some research. Local libraries and historical societies have resources on local architecture, including information on specific churches.
As I embark on my architectural running adventures, I imagine myself traversing through time, witnessing the evolution of architectural styles and the impact of religious and cultural shifts. I picture the hands of skilled craftsmen shaping stones into intricate carvings, the voices of worshippers echoing through vaulted ceilings, and the quiet contemplation of monks within cloistered walls.
Architectural beauty can inspire my running, transforming my physical exertion into a mindful journey through history and art, feeling the energy of centuries-old structures beneath my feet, and letting the spirit of devotion and creativity invigorate my spirit.
Combining running with church architecture is a unique and enriching way to experience the beauty of both the physical and the spiritual world. As I run, I not only strengthen my body but also expand my mind and deepen my appreciation for the rich tapestry of human history. But of course, there are plenty of other hobbies that you can combine with running. What’s one that you use to spice up your runs?
University Tutor from London
Age group: 50+
Club: Metros Running Club
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