I'm currently behind on reviews, so don't be surprised if the recent reviews are a bit sparse.

An Apology for the Revival of Christian Architecture in England

Cover of An Apology for the Revival of Christian Architecture in England.

Nearly a 4-star read just by how funny it was to read. Look, hey, I prefer Chesterton’s nonfiction regardless of my disagreement with him, and this is the same style of angry old Brit grumbling (with powerful eloquence) at the state of the modern world with the level of self-satisfied conviction possessed only by Catholic converts. (I cannot stress how extremely Catholic the text is. You wouldn’t believe me if I did.)

But anyway, Pugin was the Gothic Revival dude, and this is his ranting manifesto. He’s offended at the state of architecture, sacral architecture in particular, and he can and will give you tons of very specific examples of all that is wrong with English churches. (Those parts were lost on me, of course, but I got to compensate for that when he started waxing poetic about Cologne’s Cathedral.)

What he basically wants, above all else, is consistency: of design, of methods, of purpose, and he loves Gothic architecture above all else, and I relate to that very much. He’d be fine with pagan buildings, or Roman (at least if you’re Roman), but mixing styles? 16th century baroque bullshit? Gasp!, tsk!, that’s the devil’s, and we’re honest Christian Englishmen etc etc. Quite possibly the thing I like the most is that while he pushes Gothic Revival, he’s distressed and angry at the thought of Faux Gothic, so living in the 1870s must’ve been tough for the poor man.

Sometimes he gets a bit overly ranty, of course, even if you strip out the hits against the Anglicans¹. It’s possibly a bit over the top to demand the death of all (other) architects and to turn their students’ education over to him. And while it’s nice to see that he’s not against technical innovation like the steam engine and other machines (though he does object to iron casting etc for artwork, can’t have mindless art in muh church!), his take on history is hilarious: Starting in the 15th/16th century, churches were built to show off the architect’s might (something he also objects to in then-modern railway stations) – but not before? Mate, have you looked at Cologne?

The actual takes on church architecture are about what you’d expect, and not super interesting²: Nave and chancel, bell tower but no galleries (“They are of comparatively modern origin, erected for the most part since the Revolution ; and their introduction can only be accounted for by a similar degeneracy of spirit to that which has tolerated them in so many modern Catholic churches, where they are far more objec- tionable and inconsistent.”), fonts with covers, stained glass all the way, side pulpits and chancel screens, stone altars and definitely no fucking altar chairs, use the sedilia you heathen, or he will quote canon law at you.

¹ “Regarding, therefore, the state of religion for the last three centuries as a punishment for the unfaithfulness of the English Church, we cannot but feel grateful that, notwithstanding all the repeated efforts and suc- cesses of the bitterest puritans, so many traces of the ancient paths have yet been preserved” ² He even describes proper burial stones and vestments in bishops and priests, deacons, subdeacons, major and minor orders, royalty, gentry and commoners, so, uh, not filled with practical wisdom – but very interesting for stupid nerds like me.

This book is part of the 2022 Backlog Incident.