Medieval Catholic Architecture Converts Protestant (Part 2)

Big-Ben Medieval Catholic Architecture Converts Protestant (Part 2)Architecture leads to heaven or hell

In our most recent article about Augustus Pugin, we saw how the famous architect converted from a strict brand of Calvinism to Roman Catholicism, due to his studies of medieval Catholic architecture when he was 19 years old.

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Pugin designed the famous Big Ben Tower in London, as well as 70 other major buildings and churches in England in the 19th century. Millions of tourists have seen and admired them.


The facade of the Parliament building and the Big-Ben Tower represent the union of the virtues of strength and delicacy. There is a good deal of delicacy there.

Its long repetitive lines communicate something of an aspect of vast horizons.

However, it has not the élan of Cologne Cathedral, nor the superlative harmony of Notre Dame in Paris. Yet it has great dignity, elevation, nobility, and a serene aspect. Lordly and affable, it is also sacral and serious.

The British Parliament unites two contrary extremes. And every work of art accomplishes something supreme when it unites extreme and apparently contradictory opposites. Here is the idea of stable grandeur — grandeur firmly established under its own power, which starts to meditate.

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Houses.of_.parliament.overall.arp_ Medieval Catholic Architecture Converts Protestant (Part 2)

The Big-Ben is a marvel, a fitting part of the Parliament. It really fits well here. It is extremely coherent, extremely logical, extremely beautiful. Also, there is a sweetness, an English suavity that the Catholic genius brought out here through Pugin’s work; he was able to communicate a Catholic touch to it all.

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How different from the images of Protestant England! The Protestant England is not that of the Parliament or Big Ben. It is an England deformed by Protestantism, by the exaggerated pursuit of money. This was absent in the England from the time before the Protestant Revolution. Old England pursued conquests in the cultural order far more than those in the material order.


  • Legoge47

    This can be seen in church architecture in the USA. Churches constructed before Vatican 2 are beautiful works of art. Those built since are just utilitarian structures some of which more resemble factories or office buildings than church.

  • HudsonLink

    If you want to know the origin of Gothic architecture, read the life of Abbe Suger of St. Denis. He was a peasant throwaway child, too small to be useful, and so given to a nearby monastery. Which happened to be the royal monastery of France.

    One of his classmates was the Dauphin, and future French king, and the two boys became lifetime close friends. When the king went on Crusade, he left the rulership of France in Suger’s hands. Suger managed it very well, including battles with rebellious nobles, and returned the throne to the kind when he returned.

    While some of the elements of Gothic architecture already existed separately in various places, Suger, who became the abbot of the monastery, combined them in a uniquely beautiful way, using a new form of construction to allow the vast windows Gothic is famous for.

    The light itself was intended to symbolize the light of God. Suger wrote a book about his building of the cathedral of St. Denis, which is still available in English.

    For some reason, historians are absolutely unwilling to give him credit for it, despite his hands on involvement, and the fact that there is no other candidate to be named as architect. Most theories give credit to an anonymous stonemason. I don’t know why. Perhaps because Suger was a peasant?

    As far as I can see, Suger was the greatest architect the world has ever produced. Other great architects came out of a tradition. The Parthenon was not an innovation. Even modern architecture was developed over decades by several people. Suger designed a cathedral like no other in the world, and if I had not run across his name by accident, I would never have heard of him.