St. Giles’ Church in Cheadle, Staffordshire, England

The modern architecture of Catholic churches has one thing in common with the sermons of today’s priests. Both offer no inspiration. And it is this failure to provide inspiration, among other things, that has caused the Church’s decline throughout the Western World.

by Unknown artist, oil on canvas, circa 1840

One man who understood the ability of architecture to inspire the faithful was Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin. Pugin was born in London on March 1, 1812. He was the son of a prominent, French-born architect and his mother sought to raise young Augustus as a Protestant. At the age of about 23, however, he rebelled against his mother’s wishes and converted to the Catholic Church.

He had a convert’s zeal towards his new religion, especially when it came to church architecture.

He became one of the of key figures in the Gothic Revival that spread throughout northern Europe and North America during the 19th century. His most-notable architectural work was the Palace of Westminster which he designed and furnished along with Charles Barry. Pugin’s greatest piece of church architecture is St. Giles’ Church in Cheadle, Staffordshire, England, completed in 1846.

Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

Pugin’s thoughts on church architecture are expounded in his treatise The True Principles of Pointed or Christian Architecture.

To Pugin a building or church’s beauty derived from its purpose.

The two great rules for design are these: 1st, that there should be no features about a building which are not necessary for convenience, construction, or propriety; 2nd, that all ornament should consist of enrichment of the essential construction of the building. The neglect of these two rules is the cause of all the bad architecture of the present time.

This principle applies to all aspects of a church from the buttresses and the spires down to the door hinges and the keyholes. All of which are discussed in detail by Pugin.

No form of architecture, according to Pugin, achieved beauty through its purpose better than Gothic (i.e., Pointed) Architecture.

Pointed architecture does not conceal her construction, but beautifies it.

To Pugin, “the resurrection [of Christ] is the very essence of Christian architecture” and only the “vertical principle” typified by Gothic architecture could embody or emulate the rising of Christ.

Throughout his writings Pugin does not hide his distain for Classical Architecture, especially when it is used by the Church.

The finest temple of the Greeks is constructed on the same principle as a large wooden cabin. As illustrations of history they are extremely valuable; but as for their being held up as the standard of architectural excellence, and the types from which our present buildings are to be formed, it is a monstrous absurdity, which has originated in the blind admiration of modern times for everything Pagan, to the prejudice and overthrow of Christian art and propriety.

His book ends with the following plea:

Let then the Beautiful and the True be our watchword for future exertions in the overthrow of modern paltry taste and paganism, and the revival of Catholic art and dignity. Laus Deo!