February 18, 2012


Pugin: the man who made the Steam Age medievallAt the bicentenary of that Victorian whirlwind, Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, there's real cause for celebration. (christopher Howse, 2/18/12, The Telegraph)

Pugin got going before he quite knew what was to be done. He couldn't write a sentence without a mistake in spelling or grammar, but he wrote a million sentences in carriages, in vestries, in ships, in inns, in trains (which he took to avidly), in daylight and lamplight, haste post haste and reply by return. He told the world that only Gothic would do before he half understood Gothic idiom. He committed a thousand solecisms only because his imagination blew up details that his pencil had traced from medieval originals, and produced ideal buildings, such as the Deanery or St Marie's College, which by 1834 existed fully formed on paper before Pugin had ever built a house.

He got it into his head that because Gothic architecture had historically been Catholic, then Catholic architecture ought to be Gothic. A Neo-Classical church was to him a pagan temple. It was an attitude that amused and exasperated John Henry Newman, who knew Rome, to which Pugin had made one hurried visit, where only a single Gothic church had ever been built amid its scores in the Classical mode. But it was not by building Catholic churches that Pugin exerted most influence.

Because of him, St Pancras station, finished 16 years after his death, was to have pointed arches, like the cathedrals of old. The pagan Neo-Classicism of King's Cross was old hat now to advanced Victorian taste. For Pugin had invented a style fit for the Victorian polity. When we see the Queen open Parliament, she sits on the throne designed by Pugin, on a carpet of his design, in the chamber of his design in the Palace of Westminster, design by Charles Barry, but with Pugin's constant aid. Even the clocktower for Big Ben bears strong resemblance to one designed by him for Scarisbrick Hall in Lancashire.

There is also a domestic side to Pugin that is very winning. He made buildings for use and houses to be lived in. The house he built himself at Ramsgate, the Grange, with its one entrance for both family and servants, and its staircase-hall for a parlour, is safe in the hands of the Landmark Trust. Next to it stands St Augustine's church, built at his own expense unhampered by patrons' whims. Outside, it is of dark, vitreous, knapped flint. The tile-floored interior has, like his house, one space opening into another. "There in stone, oak, iron and glass," wrote his pupil J H Powell, "the inner spirit of his genius lives - Faith and Truth."

And today there's good news for this, Pugin's cherished project. After years of uncertainty, when it was hard to find the church open, St Augustine's has raised enough money to keep the roof on, and under the custodianship of Fr Marcus Holden is set fair to preserve Pugin's legacy, defended by the Pugin Society, while working as the living church he meant it to be.

The BBC special is terrific.


ON comparing the Architectural Works of the present Century with those of the Middle Ages, the wonderful superiority of the latter must strike every attentive observer; and the mind is naturally led to reflect on the causes which have wrought this mighty change, and to endeavour to trace the fall of Architectural taste, from the period of its first decline in this country to the present day; and this will form the subject of the following pages. 

It will be readily admitted that the great test of Architectural beauty is the fitness of the design to the purpose for which it is intended, and that the style of a building should so correspond with its use that the spectator may at once perceive the purpose for which it was erected.

Acting on this principle, different nations have given birth to so many various styles of Architecture, each suited to their climate, customs, and religion; and as it is among edifices of this latter class that we look for the most splendid and lasting monuments, there can be but little doubt that the religious ideas and ceremonies of these different people had by far the greatest influence in the formation of their various styles of Architecture. 

The more closely we compare the temples of the Pagan nations with their religious rites and mythologies, the more shall we be satisfied with the truth of this assertion. 

But who can regard those stupendous Ecclesiastical Edifices of the Middle Ages (the more special objects of this work), without feeling this observation in its full force? Here every portion of the sacred fabric bespeaks its origin; the very plan of the edifice is the emblem of human redemption--each portion is destined for the performance of some solemn rite of the Christian church. Here is the brazen font where the waters of baptism wash away the stain of original sin; there stands the gigantic pulpit, from which the sacred truths and ordinances are from time to time proclaimed to the congregated people; behold yonder, resplendent with precious gems, is the high altar, the seat of the most holy mysteries, and the tabernacle of the Highest! It is, indeed, a sacred place; and well does the fabric its destined purpose: the eye is carried up and lost in the height of the vaulting and the intricacy of the ailes; the rich and varied hues of the stained windows, the modulated light, the gleam of the tapers, the richness of the altars, the venerable images of the departed just, --all alike conspire to fill the mind with veneration for the place, and to make it feel the sublimity of Christian worship. And when the deep intonations of the bells from the lofty campaniles, which summon the people to the house of prayer, have ceased, and the solemn chant of the choir swells through the vast edifice, -- cold, indeed, must be the heart of that man who does not cry with the Psalmist, Domine btlíxi betorcm ïromus гиге, et locum babita itom's gloria: tuce. 

Such effects as these can only be produced on the mind by buildings, the composition of which has emanated from men who were thoroughly embued with devotion for, and faith in, the religion for whose worship they were erected. 

Their whole energies were directed towards attaining excellence; they were actuated by far nobler motives than the hopes of pecuniary reward, or even the applause and admiration of mankind. They felt they were engaged in the most glorious occupation that can fall to the lot of man, that of raising a temple to the worship of the true and living God. It was this feeling that operated alike on the master mind that planned the edifice, and on the patient sculptor whose chisel wrought each varied and beautiful detail. 

It was this feeling that induced the ancient masons, in spite of labour, danger, and difficulties, to persevere till they had raised their gigantic spires into the very regions of the clouds. It was this feeling that induced the ecclesiastics of old to devote their revenues to this pious purpose, and to labour with their own hands in the accomplishment of the work; and it is a feeling that may be traced throughout the whole of the numerous edifices of the middle ages, and which, amidst the great variety of genius which their varied styles display, still bespeak the unity of which influenced their builders and artists. 

They borrowed their ideas from no heathen rites, nor sought for decorations from the idolatrous emblems of a strange people. The foundation and progress of the Christian faith, and the sacraments and ceremonies of the church, formed an ample and noble field for the exercise of their talents; and it is an incontrovertible fact, that every class of artists who flourished during those glorious periods selected their subjects from this inexhaustible source, and devoted their greatest efforts towards the embellishment of ecclesiastical edifices. 

Yes, it was, indeed, the faith, the zeal, and, above all, the unity, of our ancestors, that enabled them to conceive and raise those wonderful fabrics that still remain to excite our wonder and admiration. They were erected for the most solemn rites of Christian worship, when the term Christian had but one signification throughout the world; when the glory of the house of God formed an important consideration with mankind, when men were zealous for religion, liberal in their gifts, and devoted to her cause; they were erected ere heresy had destroyed faith, schism had put an end to unity, and avarice had instigated the plunder of that wealth that had been consecrated to the service of the church. When these feelings entered in, the spell was broken, the Architecture itself fell with the religion to which it owed its birth, and was succeeded by a mixed and base style devoid of science or elegance, which was rapidly followed by others, till at length, regulated by no system, devoid of unity, but made to suit the ideas and means of each sect as they sprung up, buildings for religious worship present as great incongruities, varieties, and extravagances, as the sects and ideas which have emanated from the new religion which first wrought this great change. In order to prove the truth of these assertions, I will proceed, first, to shew the state of Architecture in this country immediately before the great change of religion; secondly, the fatal effects produced by that change on Architecture; and, thirdly, .the present degraded state of Architectural taste, and the utter want of those feelings which alone can restore Architecture to its ancient noble position.

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Posted by at February 18, 2012 3:10 PM

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