Friday, 23 May 2014

Arundel Roman Catholic Cathedral

When Roman Catholics finally regained the right to worship openly after operating underground since the Reformation, the resurgent church lost no time in starting a building programme designed to demonstrate they were back for good.
The Gothic style was favoured for the new churches, to emphasise continuity with the medieval church in England. The great Catholic architect A.W.N. Pugin wrote powerful satires on the Classical style that had become dominant after Henry VII's break with Rome, saying that it was ugly, untruthful and, above all, pagan. The only style to combine beauty, truth and godliness was the Gothic, Pugin said.
Where funds permitted, some amazing churches resulted such as Pugin's own church at Cheadle, paid for by the Earl of Shrewsbury.
At Arundel, the 15th Duke of Norfolk celebrated his coming of age in 1868 by building a church that would advertise the return of his ancestral faith for miles around. He provided a site at the highest point of the town and commissioned the Catholic architect Joseph Hansom to design a church that would be even higher than his own castle and put the ancient parish church completely in the shade.
Dedicated in 1873 as a mere parish church, its monumental size made it emininently suitable for cathedral status and it was duly consecrated as such when the diocese of Arundel and Brighton was formed in 1965.
The style is the French Gothic of about 1300. Its huge nave, transcepts and chancel are held up with flying buttresses. A little spire called a fleche rises from the crossing. It is very dramatic, even without the NW tower that was planned but never completed.
The interior is tall rather than long, as French churches tend to be. Columns support elegant stone tracery. At the east end of the chancel there is a French-style round apse.
The west end features a huge rose window.
The overall effect is noble indeed, but unfortunately it is in the detail that Hansom shows he is no Pugin. The carving is mechanical and he had none of Pugin's wild inventiveness or joy.
Perhaps it is not by chance that Hansom is famous not for his architecture but for the invention of the utilitarian horse-drawn cab that bears his name.