An apology for the revival of Christian Architecture, by Augustus Welby Pugin

An apology for the revival of Christian Architecture, by Augustus Welby Pugin

Michael Gilchrist

THE TRUE PRINCIPLES Of Pointed or Christian Architecture
and AN APOLOGY For the Revival of Christian Architecture
by Augustus Welby Pugin
With an Introduction by Roderick O'Donnell

(Eastbourne, UK, Gracewing, 2003, 152pp, $24.95. Available from AD Books)

For those interested in architecture, and especially in church architecture, the reappearance under one cover of Pugin's two most famous publications on Christian architecture in facsimile form will be very welcome. His conception of what constitutes fitting church design stands in stark contrast to much of today's modern architecture.

No doubt he would have echoed the sentiments expressed in a recent article in AD2000 by Dr Paul Mees, titled "Spank the architect!"

Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812-1852) exercised an extraordinary influence, as expressed through Gothic Revival principles, over British architecture in the 19th century. At the end of his short life and even shorter career as an architect, he was able to claim with some justification that his writings had "revolutionised the taste of England".

Art and life

Pugin had been trained in his father's drawing office, a seedbed of architectural and antiquarian scholarship, where his brilliant draughtsmanship developed - as illustrated in the numerous sketches in this present facsimile edition. During this period of his apprenticeship, he came to the conviction that there was an intimate link between art and life. Alongside this, his sense of architectural mission was enlivened by his strong Catholic faith.

Before long, in an age of flourishing opportunities in print, Pugin's books, pamphlets and journalism would establish him as an architectural and Catholic controversialist. His forceful, colourful prose left no-one in any doubt where he stood - some of it having a familiar ring, considering what would occur in many Catholic churches during the frenzy of architectural "renewal" that followed the Second Vatican Council and would persist even to today. The following is a typical example of his style:

"At Bury St Edmund's is a glorious roof, of which I have given a sketch ... But, alas! how many equally fine roofs have been demolished and burnt by the brutal ignorance of parish functionaries! - how many have been daubed over by the remorseless whitewasher! - how many painted in vile imitation of marble, as at Yarmouth ... [H]ow many of these fine roofs have been spoiled of their beautiful and appropriate decorations by the execrable fanaticism of the puritan faction, who actually have made entries in the parish accounts of the cost of their demolition ... [S]till how many more of these beautiful memorials of the piety and skill of our ancestors are yet being mutilated or utterly destroyed under the pretext of reparation".

True Principles of Pointed or Christian Architecture was published in 1841, when Pugin was 29 years old. In it he presented coherent arguments for the revival of the Gothic style, the case for which he had made pictorially in his book Contrasts, first published in 1836. For Pugin, the Gothic Revival was "not a style, but a principle" and this he laid down in his most influential architectural treatise, True Principles.

An Apology for the Revival of Christian Architecture appeared two years after True Principles in 1843. Much of his thought in the Apology is on architectural education, and in rejecting the straitjacket of "neoclassical architectural principles" Pugin had a considerable impact on mid-Victorian architecture.

Source books

Though he would exercise a long-lasting influence, Pugin's books were short-lived as publications and neither True Principles nor An Apology were reprinted during his lifetime. True Principles was republished in a new edition in 1853 (the year after Pugin's death), then again at the end of the 19th century. Facsimile editions of both works appeared in the mid-20th century but have long been out of print.

Since the original edition of An Apology is often bound together with True Principles in its 1853 reprint it was historically appropriate that the two works have been reprinted once again as one volume, but in facsimile of the first edition of each.

The two books are introduced in this edition by the architectural historian and Pugin authority Dr Roderick O'Donnell, who is currently working on a new book, The Pugins and the Catholic North, while a facsimile edition of Pugin's Contrasts is in preparation.

Given the debates and controversies within the Catholic Church over the future direction of church design, this is a timely reprint.

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