19th- and 20th-Century Roman Catholic Churches

Preparing to load PDF file. please wait...

0 of 0
19th- and 20th-Century Roman Catholic Churches

Transcript Of 19th- and 20th-Century Roman Catholic Churches

19th- and 20th-Century Roman Catholic Churches
Introductions to Heritage Assets

Historic England’s Introductions to Heritage Assets (IHAs) are accessible, authoritative, illustrated summaries of what we know about specific types of archaeological site, building, landscape or marine asset. Typically they deal with subjects which lack such a summary. This can either be where the literature is dauntingly voluminous, or alternatively where little has been written. Most often it is the latter, and many IHAs bring understanding of site or building types which are neglected or little understood. Many of these are what might be thought of as ‘new heritage’, that is they date from after the Second World War.
For over two hundred years after the Act of Uniformity (1559) outward observance of the Roman Catholic faith was illegal in England. The building of public places of worship did not resume until the end of the 18th century, gathering pace after Catholic Emancipation (1829) and the restoration of the hierarchy (1850). The 20th century saw accelerated expansion. This is therefore a relatively modern building stock, with approximately two thirds of more than 3,000 churches dating from the 20th century, and from the 1950s and 1960s in particular. Although there are stylistic crossovers with Anglican and, to a lesser extent, Nonconformist church design, Catholic churches have a distinct character, driven in large part by liturgical function. The building type has evolved over the years to meet changing liturgical and other needs. Today, a decline in the number of priests and demographic and pastoral change means that many Catholic churches face an uncertain future.
This guidance note has been written by Andrew Derrick and edited by Deborah Mays and Linda Monckton.
It is one is of several guidance documents that can be accessed at HistoricEngland. org.uk/listing/selection-criteria/listing-selection/ihas-buildings/
Published by Historic England September 2017.
Front cover The interior of St Monica, Bootle, Merseyside, by F X Velarde (1936), described by Sir Nikolaus Pevsner as ‘epoch-making’.

1 Historical Background..................2
1.1 Reformation to 1790.....................................2 1.2 Relief Acts to Emancipation.........................2 1.3 Restoration of the Catholic hierarchy.........3 1.4 20th century growth.....................................3 1.5 The Second Vatican Council and beyond...5
2 Chronology and Development of the Building Type......................6
2.1 Liturgy and architecture: The CounterReformation model.......................................6
2.2 1790-1829: Emergence from the shadows... 7 2.3 The triumph of Gothic..................................8 2.4 Italian, Byzantine, Romanesque and
basilican models.........................................11 2.5 Catholic Arts and Crafts..............................12 2.6 Experiments in contemporary design.......14 2.7 After the Second Vatican Council .............15
3 Associations...............................18
4 Change and the Future...............20
5 Further Reading..........................21
5.1 Contact Historic England...........................22
6 Acknowledgements....................23


The medieval parish churches which are such a feature of the English landscape were built for Christian worship according to the Latin (that is, the Roman Catholic) rite. That ceased to be the case at the time of the Reformation, and while a handful of medieval churches have returned to Catholic use, the vast majority of Catholic churches in use today were built in the 19th and 20th centuries. This is therefore a building stock of relatively recent date, the scale and significance of which has often been overlooked.

The Roman Catholic Church is the world’s largest Christian church, with an estimated 1.285 billion members, or one in six people. It is governed by the Pope, through the Roman Curia. Despite the popular perception of the Church as a monolithic and centralised organisation, power and administration are mainly devolved to the local level, authority residing with the diocesan bishop. Places of public worship are controlled by, and belong to, the diocese in which they are located, except when they are owned by one of the religious orders. In addition to a church, each parish may have a presbytery (priest’s house), a parish hall, a school or a convent, usually attached to or near the church. The church is the centre of practising Catholics’ spiritual life and religious observance, the place where they attend Mass and receive other sacraments.

There are over 3,000 Catholic parish churches and chapels in England, mainly in urban and suburban areas; there are relatively few rural examples, but those that survive are often amongst the oldest and most important. Nearly all of these churches have been visited under the Taking Stock programme, an architectural and historical review of Catholic churches in England undertaken by Historic England in partnership with the dioceses.
This introduction to Heritage Assets for Roman Catholic churches concerns public places of parish worship. It does not consider private or institutional chapels, or those attached to convents and monasteries (for the last of these a separate introduction is available).

< < Contents


1 Historical Background

1.1 Reformation to 1790

The Catholic Mass became illegal in England in 1559, under Queen Elizabeth I’s Act of Uniformity. Thereafter Catholic observance became a furtive and dangerous affair, with heavy penalties levied on those, known as recusants, who refused to attend Anglican church services. The seeds of a new underground church were planted with the foundation in 1568 of the College at Douai in Flanders (now northern France), from which missionary priests were trained and sent out to sympathetic safe houses in England. Many of these priests were to meet death by hanging, drawing and quartering in the Elizabethan period.
While the penal laws remained on the statute books, violent persecution diminished under the Stuarts, although Catholic hopes for improvement were not helped by the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, which prompted further executions and suspicion. In the later Stuart period, the situation was made more complicated by the open or private Catholic faith of some monarchs, and by their Catholic marriages. James II was openly Catholic. On his accession in 1685 the penal laws were suspended, ecclesiastical hierarchy restored, and the country divided into four Districts, each led by a Vicar Apostolic (bishop to missionary territories).
These developments were nipped in the bud by James II’s flight in 1688 and the accession of William III, ushering in the Glorious or Protestant Revolution. The penal laws were re-established, and practising as a priest made punishable with life imprisonment (the last priest to be so punished being in 1767). The laity was

Figure 1 Torture of the Derbyshire priest Ralph Sherwin at the Tower of London in 1580, as depicted in stained glass of 1931-2 by Hardman of Birmingham at A W N Pugin’s St Mary, Derby. Sherwin is one of Forty Catholic martyrs of the Reformation canonised by Pope Paul VI in 1970.
prevented from buying new land, barred from the professions, army and universities and forbidden to own a horse worth more than £5. Catholic activity declined, and open displays of Catholic allegiance were seldom seen. A notable exception being in central London, where public worship took place unhindered in chapels attached to the embassies of foreign Catholic monarchies.
1.2 Relief Acts to Emancipation
In 1776 the Government approached Richard Challoner, Vicar Apostolic for London, for help in recruiting Catholics to fight in the American

< < Contents


War of Independence. In exchange for this the government set up a committee of laymen to consider a relaxation of the penal laws. A Catholic Relief Act brought before Parliament in 1778 allowed Catholics to buy and inherit land and protected clergy from prosecution for fulfilling their priestly role, but made no specific provision for church building. The Act prompted a fierce backlash, culminating in the Gordon Riots of 1780, when many Catholic properties were sacked.

serving the missions (as they were known) from 2,000 to 3,000. At the start of the 20th century, the estimated Catholic population had risen to 1.5m, or 4.6% of the general population of England and Wales. Catholic culture was strong, introverted, and in some areas clannish in character; Catholics had their own schools, their own social clubs and were firmly discouraged from marrying outside the faith.

The Second Catholic Relief Act of 1791 allowed Catholics, subject to the swearing of an oath of loyalty to the monarch, to practice their religion without fear of prosecution, and this included the building of churches. However bells and steeples were not permitted, and as a rule church buildings of the early post-Relief Act years were architecturally understated. However, confidence grew in the 1820s, culminating with the passing of the Catholic Emancipation Act in 1829, when most of the remaining barriers of penal times were removed.
1.3 Restoration of the Catholic hierarchy
In 1850, Pope Pius IX restored the Catholic hierarchy in England and Wales, with the creation of thirteen new dioceses, each headed by a diocesan bishop. At this time there was a considerable under-provision of churches to cater for the growing, mainly industrial and working class Catholic population. The census of 1851 recorded just over 250,000 attending Sunday Mass out of an estimated Catholic population of over 600,000. Many of these were recent Irish immigrants, escaping the privations of the Great Famine (1845-52).
The second half of the 19th century saw an enormous building programme, focusing primarily on schools, with churches following as funds permitted. Many buildings served as dual purpose school-chapels until a permanent church could be built. Between 1875 and 1900 the number of churches and chapels grew by a third to about 1,500, and the estimated number of priests

1.4 20th century growth
The present Catholic parish system did not come into effect until 1908, when England ceased to be mission territory directly answerable to Rome and became instead subject to the Church’s normal system of canon law. This formally took effect in 1917.
There were an estimated 1.7m Catholics by 1911, rising to 2.4m (5.7% of the population) by 1941. Numbers were greatest in the industrial Catholic heartlands, especially Lancashire, County Durham, the West Midlands and London. While the main Catholic centres remained in the urban areas, there was increasing growth in the suburbs. Except in Durham and Lancashire there was very little rural presence, although travelling missions were increasingly established to sow the seeds of future rural parishes. Numbers were boosted by conversions, including the artist Eric Gill and the writers G K Chesterton, Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh. Such conversions helped to break down some people’s perception of English Catholicism as a foreign body administering to a working class and largely Irish population.
The growing sense of Catholic progress and triumphalism was underlined by a series of landmark events, including the consecration of Westminster Cathedral (Fig 2) in 1910 and the start of Lutyens’ great new cathedral in Liverpool in 1933 (Fig 3). However, the onset of the Second World War put the brake on building work at Liverpool and elsewhere, as resources were directed towards the war effort.

< < Contents


Figure 2 (top) Westminster Cathedral, built in 1895-1903 from designs by J F Bentley. The mother church of Roman Catholics in England and Wales, and described by the architect Norman Shaw at the time of opening as ‘the finest church that has been built for centuries’. The programme of mosaic enrichment continues to this day.

Figure 3 (bottom) Contemporary postcard showing Edwin Lutyens’ extraordinary, unrealised design for Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. It would have dwarfed Giles Gilbert Scott’s Anglican Cathedral, and encapsulates Catholic confidence and triumphalism in the interwar years. Only the crypt was completed.

< < Contents


After the war, it took a while for expansion to resume; building restrictions and austerity meant that church and school building did not pick up again until the 1950s. The Education Act of 1944 engendered a boom in school building, and in the 1950s and 1960s this went hand in hand with church building, serving the expanding new towns, suburbs and housing estates. More Catholic churches were built in these decades than in any other decade before or since.
1.5 The Second Vatican Council and beyond
The Second Vatican Council (or Vatican II) was opened by Pope John XXIII in October 1962 and closed under Pope Paul VI in December 1965. The Council had a profound impact on Catholics, how they saw themselves and how they were seen by other Christian denominations and the wider world. The triumphalism of the pre-war years was left behind, and Christian unity increasingly promoted. Ecumenical collaboration at the local level increased significantly. The outward form of the liturgy was changed, with Mass said in the vernacular tongue rather than Latin, within reordered sanctuaries. Some parishioners found these changes traumatic, while others embraced the spirit of renewal. Initially at least numbers attending Mass held up, and in 1971 the number of priests reached an all-time high of 7,500.

However, momentum was not maintained, and the last decades of the 20th century saw a sharp decline. Various explanations have been advanced for this; some (secularism, consumerism) affected all major Christian denominations, others (widespread rejection of authority, especially on matters relating to human sexual relationships) more specific to the Catholic Church. The breakup of formerly solid working class Catholic communities was particularly marked in the north of England, where traditional manufacturing industries were breaking down. There was a decline in the number of priests, from the high water mark of 1971, to 5,600 in 2001. Fewer priests meant fewer churches, with nearly 600 closures between 1961 and 2001. However, this decline has to some extent been offset by Catholic immigration from Eastern Europe and elsewhere, and by a continuing, though smaller, influx of converts, reacting to the Church of England’s decision to allow female ordination.

< < Contents


2 Chronology and Development of the Building Type

The main focus of Catholic worship is the Mass, in which the sacrament of the Eucharist (Holy Communion) is celebrated. The Catholic Church teaches that during the Mass, through the action of the priest, the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ (‘transubstantiation’). The Blessed Sacrament (consecrated communion wafers) is reserved in the tabernacle, located on or near the altar, alongside which a flame burns (the sanctuary lamp). Other features traditionally characteristic of Catholic churches are side chapels and images dedicated to saints, particularly the Virgin Mary, timber confessionals (often replaced today by ‘reconciliation rooms’) and Stations of the Cross, fourteen carved representations of the day of Christ’s crucifixion used as an aid to devotion, especially in Lent. The whole of the church is regarded as a sacred space, used for private prayer as well as for communal worship. Its use for secular purposes is discouraged.

2.1 Liturgy and architecture: The Counter-Reformation model
Changes in architectural fashion apart, the basic form for Catholic churches did not change significantly from the mid-16th century until the 1960s. The model was established by St Charles Borromeo in his Instructions on Ecclesiastical Building (1577), written fourteen years after the

Figure 4 E W Pugin’s St Austin, Stafford (1861-2) is a not untypical pre-Vatican II church plan, of longitudinal form, with the main focus on the high altar in the sanctuary.

< < Contents


Council of Trent was convened in response to the Protestant Reformation. Figure 4 shows a not untypical pre-Vatican II English Catholic church plan. It is a Latin cross plan, with long nave, side aisles, and a short sanctuary with side chapels. The building is entered from a narthex or porch at the west end, where Catholics bless themselves at the holy water stoup before entering the main body of the church. Inside, the visual focus is the sanctuary, with a high altar at the east end (in this case supplemented since Vatican II by a forward altar). The tabernacle is placed upon the former high altar or in its position; Catholics genuflect (kneel) when passing in front of this. An ambo or lectern doubling up as a pulpit is also placed in the sanctuary, for readings and sermons. The baptismal font is located in the north aisle near the sanctuary, but was originally placed in a baptistery at the west end. The aisles were (and are) used for processions as well as for additional seating; Stations of the Cross are mounted on their walls. Sacristies (where clergy and servers vest for Mass) and the presbytery (the priest’s house) are linked to the church.

2.2 1790-1829: Emergence from the shadows

At first the Counter-Reformation model did not apply in England, since Catholic church building was forbidden. When this was finally revived after 1791, it usually took a low-key form, with churches sometimes hidden away behind the priest’s house so as to remain discreet (Fig 5). They were often similar in architectural character to Nonconformist meeting houses of the time, with single-cell, occasionally galleried interiors. Many are in rural locations, on or close to the estates of landowners who had maintained the Catholic faith during the penal years.
Increasing confidence from about 1820 led to large town churches being built in greater number. Many were classical, such as SS Peter and Paul, Wolverhampton, built in 1826-8 as a memorial to John Milner, Vicar Apostolic of the Midland District. Despite the style of his memorial, Milner was a scholar with a special interest in

Figure 5 (top) St Benet, Netherton, Merseyside, built in 1793 and now in the care of the Historic Chapels Trust. The church is discreetly located behind the priest’s house, with no outward sign of its purpose. The bell on the gable is a later addition; bells and steeples were forbidden under the terms of the second Catholic Relief Act.
Figure 6 (bottom) Battle of the Styles 1: The church of St Mary, Wigan, Lancashire (now Greater Manchester), built in 1818-19 and served by secular clergy.

< < Contents