Stanford, Peter 1961–

views updated

Stanford, Peter 1961–

PERSONAL: Born November 23, 1961, in Cheshire, England; son of Reginald and Mary Catherine Stanford; married Siobhan Cross (a lawyer), February 11, 1995; children: Kit, Orla. Education: Oxford, M.A., 1983. Religion: Catholic. Hobbies and other interests: Sports cars, photography.

ADDRESSES: Home—London, England. Agent—c/o A.P. Watt, 20 John St., London WC1N 2DR, England. E-mail[email protected].

CAREER: Writer, journalist, and broadcaster. Catholic Herald, London, England, former editor; British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), London, England, presenter, producer, and contributor; Longford Trust (charitable institution), director.

MEMBER: Association for Spinal Injury Research, Reintegration and Rehabilitation (chair), Candoco Dance Company (patron).


Believing Bishops, Faber and Faber (Boston, MA), 1990.

(Editor) The Seven Deadly Sins, Hodder and Stoughton (London, England), 1990.

Catholics and Sex, Heinemann (London, England), 1992.

Cardinal Hume and the Changing Face of English Catholicism, G. Chapman (London, England), 1993.

(With Gerard Eyre Noel) The Anatomy of the Catholic Church: Before and since John Paul II, M. Russell (Norwich, England), 1994.

Lord Longford: A Life, Heinemann (London, England), 1994.

The Devil: A Biography, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 1996.

The Legend of Pope Joan: In Search of the Truth, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 1999.

Bronwen Astor: Her Life and Times, HarperCollins (London, England), 2000.

Heaven: A Traveller's Guide to the Undiscovered Country, HarperCollins (London, England), 2002, published as Heaven: A Guide to the Undiscovered Country, Palgrave MacMillan (New York, NY), 2005.

The Outcasts' Outcast, Sutton (Stroud, England), 2003.

Why I Am Still a Catholic: Essays in Faith and Perseverance, Continuum (New York, NY), 2005.

(Editor, with Julian Filochowski) Opening Up: Speaking Out in Church, Darton, Longman, and Todd (London, England), 2005.

Contributor to British periodicals, including the Independent, Sunday Times, and Guardian newspapers.

ADAPTATIONS: Catholics and Sex was adapted for television by Channel 4, London, England, 1993; The Devil: A Biography was adapted for television by BBC, London, England, 1998; The Legend of Pope Joan: In Search of the Truth was adapted for television by BBC, London, 1999; Pope Joan is being adapted for film by Dan Films, London, England.

SIDELIGHTS: Peter Stanford's The Legend of Pope Joan: In Search of the Truth examines the Roman Catholic legend that, in the ninth century, a woman who wanted an education disguised herself as a man, became a monk, and was so successful in her church studies and so well-regarded that she eventually succeeded in becoming pope. She reigned for two years, until she gave birth to a baby and thus revealed the secret of her identity—a revelation that led to her execution. Most modern Catholic thinkers dismiss this as folklore begun by anti-Catholic propagandists, but Stanford investigated and found more than 500 medieval sources describing details of Pope Joan's tenure. Although he could not prove conclusively that she existed, he proposes that she could have existed and become pope during a particularly disorganized time in the rule of the Church. Stanford describes the travels he undertook to find manuscripts and sources, describes art depicting a woman pope, and discusses the rival thesis that Pope Joan was invented by Protestants who wanted to discredit the Catholic Church and the papacy. He also discusses other evidence of her existence, including a seat that subsequent popes used so that others could verify their manhood. He writes: "I am convinced that Pope Joan was an historical figure, though perhaps not all the details about her that have been passed down through the centuries are true." Stanford added: "She achieved that papacy at a time when the office was hopelessly debased and corrupt, [and] was moderately successful, but … her triumph was short-lived." Katharine Whittemore wrote on the Web site that the book is "a sly, easygoing historical detective story."

In The Devil: A Biography, Stanford provides an entertaining and informed history of the personification of evil. The concept of the Devil has been a part of Western Civilization for thousands of years, particularly in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim belief, but similar demons were also believed in by earlier cultures. Although the "Evil One" was often discussed in early Puritan America, many modern people have ceased believing in Satan. Stanford writes that in light of the evils of the twentieth century, such as the two World Wars and the Holocaust, perhaps modern people should not toss aside this concept so easily. In addition, he notes, the popularity of films and books about Satanic cults shows that the Devil still has a good grip on modern imaginations.

In Cardinal Hume and the Changing Face of English Catholicism, Stanford provides a description of the life of British cardinal Basil Hume and places Hume's career in the context of historic changes in the Catholic Church. Hume, who was appointed archbishop of Westminster in 1976, and thus presides over a large urban diocese, has been very successful in gaining respect and admiration from political and social leaders, as well as the pope. Hume is also interested in social welfare, follows church doctrine regarding birth control and other issues, and has a deeply contemplative background.

The Seven Deadly Sins is a collection of stories, edited by Stanford. Although all of the stories were originally published in the Catholic Herald, Janet Barron remarked in the Spectator that "they translate very comfortably for a more secular audience." Barron concluded that The Seven Deadly Sins is "a most appealing and amusing collection."

In Heaven: A Guide to the Undiscovered Country, published in England as Heaven: A Traveller's Guide to the Undiscovered Country, Stanford writes about various views of the afterlife, including his own. He discusses the views of various religions but focuses primarily on Christian concepts. He discusses how peoples' views of "heaven" have changed over the years and discusses the views of such notable writers and mystics as Dante and William Blake. Stanford also delves into paranormal accounts of near-death experiences. "At a time when clerics have lapsed into silence on a topic still charged with intense interest, this book will attract a large and appreciative readership," commented Bryce Christensen in Booklist. In a review for the New Statesman, Antonia Faser wrote: "In an engaging narrative in his new book, Peter Stanford explores all the complicated themes surrounding the subject." Anthony Campbell, writing on his home page Web site, commented that he "found the smaller section at the end where Stanford looks at modern attitudes to the afterlife to be the most interesting."

The Outcasts' Outcast is a biography of Lord Longford, the foremost proponent of prison reform in Britain from 1930 until his death in 2001. Longford also began one of the first agencies in England for homeless teenagers. Stanford also served as coeditor with Julian Filochowski of Opening Up: Speaking Out in Church. The book includes various articles exploring modern Catholic theology concerning such issues as HIV/AIDS and poverty.

Stanford told CA: "Though sometimes it makes me unpopular with the leadership of churches, my work focusses mainly on the importance of religion and religious ideas in an increasingly secular society and is aimed at a wider audience who may not be churchgoers, but who believe there is something more to life than the here and now."



Stanford, Peter, The Legend of Pope Joan: In Search of the Truth, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 1999.


Booklist, October 1, 1996, Steve Schroeder, review of The Devil: A Biography, p. 306; January 1, 1999, Margaret Flanagan, review of The Legend of Pope Joan, p. 800; February 15, 2004, Bryce Christensen, review of Heaven: A Guide to the Undiscovered Country, p. 1006; October 1, 2004, Ray Olson, review of Heaven, p. 302.

Commonweal, September 23, 1994, Lawrence S. Cunningham, review of Cardinal Hume and the Changing Face of English Catholicism, p. 29.

Community Care, January 22, 2004, Terry Philpot, review of The Outcasts' Outcast, p. 44.

Conscience, spring, 2006, review of Opening Up: Speaking Out in the Church, p. 48.

Economist, April 10, 1993, review of Cardinal Hume and the Changing Face of English Catholicism, p. 97.

Entertainment Weekly, January 22, 1999, p. 98.

Library Journal, September 15, 1996, C. Robert Nixon, review of The Devil, p. 74; January, 1999, Carolyn M. Craft, review of The Legend of Pope Joan, p. 106.

New Statesman, April 8, 2002, Antonia Faser, review of Heaven, p. 52.

New Statesman and Society, April 20, 1990, Sara Maitland, "Blind Mouths," p. 37; April 23, 1993, Adrian Hastings, review of Cardinal Hume and the Changing Face of English Catholicism, p. 37; March 11, 1994, Boyd Tonkin, review of The Anatomy of the Catholic Church: Before and since John Paul II, p. 41; June 17, 1994, Bernard Crick, review of Lord Longford: A Life, p. 37.

Publishers Weekly, October 14, 1996, review of The Devil, p. 76; November 16, 1998, review of The Legend of Pope Joan, p. 68.

Spectator, December 8, 1990, Janet Barron, "The Fruits of Originality," p. 40.


Anthony Campbell's Home Page, (January 28, 2003), Anthony Campbell, review of Heaven., (May 26, 1999), Katharine Whittemore, review of The Legend of Pope Joan.