Thursday, March 1, 2012

A.W.N. Pugin, March 1, 1812

Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin was born on March 1, 1812 in London--200 years ago!His parents were emigres from the French Revolution and his father, Augustin Pugin was an architect. He set his son to drawing Gothic buildings. His interest in Gothic architecture led him to study the Catholic faith and A.W. N. Pugin joined the Catholic Church in 1835.

On the Continent, Eugene Viollet-le-Duc's career is roughly coterminous with Pugin's and both contributed to the revival of Gothic architecture. Viollet-le-Duc was more interested in restoration of Gothic cathedrals, churches, and castles throughout France. Pugin was convinced that Gothic was THE style for Christian buildings. He wanted not only to design churches and cathedrals in the Gothic style but to furnish them and decorate them throughout--designing every aspect of the building. Unfortunately, his patrons did not always have the money necessary to complete all that work.

When the Catholic hierarchy was restored in 1850 after emancipation in 1829, of course, Catholics had to build a new infrastructure: churches, cathedrals, convents, monasteries, schools, and seminaries--there was a lot of work to do! In collaboration with John Talbot, the sixteenth Earl of Shrewsbury, Pugin designed and built 14 chapels, schools, etc between 1836 and 1848 in Staffordshire. He also worked in Ireland, especially in County Wexford in the late 1830s and throughout the 1840s. He travelled on the Continent, visiting France and the Netherlands, but did not go to Rome until 1847--where the Renaissance and Baroque architecture of the churches disappointed him. (I think there is only one truly Gothic church in Rome, Santa Maria Sopra Minerva.)

He was only 40 years old when he died. He suffered from mental illness and tremendous stress--and perhaps syphilis, according to his major modern biographer, Rosemary Hill. His sons Edward Welby and Peter Paul continued his work in their partnership, Pugin and Pugin. E.W. Pugin also died at the age of 40, in 1875 and Peter Paul finished several of his works in progress and maintained the family style.

More about the bicentennial celebrations here, and some notes about the home, church, and abbey he designed, built, and planned at Ramsgate here, including this delicious insight into Pugin's artistic work:

But he was also devout in a way that would strike us now as extreme. A Catholic convert, he believed that everything had been wrong with England since Henry VIII changed the national religion. He longed for a return of the great pre-Reformation Age of Faith, when monasteries dispensed charity to the poor, lords welcomed travellers beneath the hammer-beamed roofs of their halls, and church spires, not factory chimneys, soared over towns. He tried to realise his vision in, of all places, Ramsgate.

Not only did Pugin build a house, The Grange, at Ramsgate – note the monastic name – but, incredibly, given that he had to pay for every penny of the construction himself, a church. It is, as you would expect, one of his finest works, hard on the outside (it is built of the local material, flint) but, as its priest Fr Marcus Holden puts it, “a revelation of God’s glory within”. It is enriched with delicate stained glass, beautiful carving and a font that was originally made for the Medieval Court of the Great Exhibition. . . . Together, The Grange, St Augustine’s Church and St Augustine’s Abbey form the completest expression of what Pugin believed a revived Middle Ages could be – an inspiring testament to his genius, faith and hard work. Unesco should celebrate this anniversary by making them a World Heritage Site.

1 comment:

  1. I received this comment via email:

    "Check out this 1848 AWN Pugin-designed church in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia:

    The building narrowly escaped demolition before being restored & now houses a statue of St Mary MacKillop that was carved from a single 100 year-old tree trunk. It is powerful, rough, & so moving – a magnificent tribute to a tough woman. See

    Regards, "Wadicroc".