God's Architect Songs of Praise


God's Architect

Aled Jones discovers the remarkable story of leading church architect Augustus Pugin. Two hundred years after his birth, his designs are a lasting legacy to his faith.


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He's a great Briton honoured on a first-class stamp,

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as designer of the Clock Tower

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and interiors of the Houses of Parliament.

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He inspired generations of church architects.

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Without him, there would be no fun at Alton Towers.

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But, sadly, his own short life was a roller coaster ride

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of illness, poverty and bereavements.

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Yet, at the heart of everything he did

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was his deep-rooted Christian faith,

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which is why Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin

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is known as God's architect.

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This is Pugin's 200th anniversary year.

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So tonight, from churches

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which inspired or were inspired by his architecture and design,

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congregations from all over the country sing out the faith

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that motivated his every thoughts.

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I've come to Kent to St Augustine's in Ramsgate,

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Pugin's last church,

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which he built for his own community,

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next door to his own house,

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and this is where he is buried.

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People really remember Pugin

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mostly as a church architect,

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though he was very, very innovative as a domestic architect

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and a secular architect as well.

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But for Pugin his faith was the framework

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within which everything else happened.

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So, for Pugin, everything is for the glory of God.

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When we speak of a church, we don't simply mean the physical building.

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Pugin's principal aim is to create

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living architecture, architecture with soul,

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architecture that is decorated according to its function.

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And its function is for the people of God, for the worship of God.

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Pugin influenced an entire generation of architects

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as well as being the father of an architectural dynasty.

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And our first hymn comes from a building that was designed,

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like this chapel, by his eldest son, Edward.

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Once at the heart of industrial Manchester,

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Gorton Monastery fell into disrepair in the 1990s.

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But it was saved from dereliction by the local community, who loved it.

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In 1812, when Augustus Pugin was born,

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the only child of a French artist father and English mother,

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the height of fashion in art and architecture was very different from this.

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It was the Georgian, neoclassical style.

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It wasn't British, it wasn't Christian.

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The Greeks and the Romans were not Christians.

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It was built for pagan gods, as he called them.

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And also, it must be said that when Pugin was growing up,

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the neoclassical architecture of the Regency was pretty flimsy,

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a lot of stucco, a lot of plaster,

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everything that he most disliked about the architecture and also the society,

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which he felt was rather upfront and hypocritical as well.

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Gothic architecture was the architecture of the Middle Ages in Europe

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and it was more or less characterised

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in the 19th century - people talked about Gothic or pointed architecture.

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So it's all those churches and cathedrals with pointy spires and crockets and pinnacles.

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-And Pugin was a big fan?

-Pugin loved Gothic architecture.

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He thought that it was the right architecture for this country,

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because it was a native architecture.

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It was more practical, because, as he said,

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if you import classical architecture from Greece and Rome

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designed for a Mediterranean climate, whereas, as he said,

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the pinnacles in England keep off the rain.

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Contrasts was the first book you could call an architectural manifesto.

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What he was trying to say and indeed succeeded very well in saying

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was that English society had reached a crisis point.

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There were slums, factories, workhouses

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and Contrasts compares the modern state of society,

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especially the workhouses which were new,

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and were coming under the new Poor Law,

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with the way that things were organised in the Middle Ages,

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in which you had, Pugin believed, a much more integrated society

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in which the poor would be looked after in a humane manner.

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And that was his main point,

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to suggest that through architecture,

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you achieve a different kind of society.

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Pugin saw Gothic buildings as physical symbols

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of an idealised Christian community.

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Many of his contemporaries followed in his footsteps.

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One of these, George Gilbert Scott,

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claimed he was a new man after Pugin had awaken him

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to how architecture could give dignity to the human condition.

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Such as the mill-workers' houses Scott designed at Akroydon, near Halifax.

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Scott also restored and repaired what is now Halifax Minster,

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returning the ancient church of St John The Baptist,

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whose feast we celebrate today,

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to what was as near as possible to its former medieval splendour.

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He learned to draw from his father,

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who was an architect and an architectural draftsman,

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but he never learned architecture per se.

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I mean, he learned on the job, and he learned by trial and error.

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-And there were some quite big errors.

-Really?

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Yes. Absolutely.

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At the Church of St Anne's in Keighley,

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there is a little note in his diary which says, "Belfry fell down."

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-Oops!

-Oops!

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He practised architecture like a romantic artist.

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His own favourite church while he was building it was St Giles, Cheadle,

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which was paid for by his great patron, the Earl of Shrewsbury.

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The money wasn't too short there for once.

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It is a romantic work of art because every single surface,

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and every medium - the glass, the metalwork, the ceramics on the floor,

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the painted wall, carved stone, is all to his design.

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He influenced everybody in the 19th century whether they liked him or not,

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whether they knew it or not.

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All Saints Church in Cheltenham has Gothic, Pre-Raphaelite

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and also Arts And Crafts interiors -

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all revealing elements of how Pugin's principles influenced later designers.

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All Saints was begun by local architect John Middleton back in 1865,

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the very same year that Cardinal John Henry Newman wrote and published

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his poem, The Dream Of Gerontius,

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the origin of one of our best-loved hymns.

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People in Ramsgate and Thanet are very proud that the Gospel

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first landed here.

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Pugin moved to Ramsgate because, as he writes,

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"blessed Austen" had "landed nearby".

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This captivated his romantic imagination

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and he was fascinated by the figure of Augustine.

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In 596 AD, Pope Gregory the Great sent a mission to England.

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40 monks arrived and landed on the Isle of Thanet.

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Augustine was their leader.

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The meeting between St Augustine

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and King Ethelbert who was the leading king

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amongst the Anglo-Saxon peoples of the time is, in a sense,

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the birth of English Christianity,

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and, to some extent, the birth of the English nation.

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It began a whole history of civilisation, art, architecture, literature, law -

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all represented in that meeting.

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It seems fitting that there is another church

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dedicated to King Ethelbert in Ramsgate.

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It is also fitting that this was created by a Pugin,

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this time not Augustus Welby,

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but his youngest son Peter Paul Pugin

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who, in his own right, is a great architect.

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In 1538, the shrine of St Augustine in Canterbury,

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which drew pilgrims from all over the country and beyond was sadly destroyed.

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It got caught up in the political turmoil of the age,

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but now that has been rectified.

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This year, on 1st March,

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the Archbishop of Southwark declared the Church of St Augustine in Ramsgate, Pugin's church,

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dedicated to the saint as a new shrine

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to honour the beginnings of Christian England, the coming of the Gospel to our land.

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It's a great responsibility to be custodian of such church with such a legacy,

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and, in a sense, continuing Pugin's dream with honouring the English saints

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who captivated his own imagination.

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It's the worship of Jesus

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by saints of all nations which is the subject of her next hymn,

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from Edward Pugin's monastery at Gorton.

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My great-great-grandparents were Augustus Welby Pugin

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and his third wife Jane Knill.

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They had a daughter called Margaret, Matty.

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She, in turn, had my grandfather Charles.

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Charles was the last architect in the Pugin & Pugin business.

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He was a man who loved his family.

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He loved having the children around him

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and that was one of the reasons he designed the grange so well,

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so it was surrounding the family

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and became an example for future housing.

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He was married three times.

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Unfortunately, he lost his first two wives and was desolate by that.

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He needed company and Jean Knill became his third wife.

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He regarded her as the true Gothic woman.

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He was warm, he was ebullient.

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He wasn't particularly refined in his manners.

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He wasn't particularly deferential.

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He was a very driven man.

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He had a great attention to detail.

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Perhaps, sometimes people would say he was a perfectionist.

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During his very short life,

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he produced an incredible amount of work.

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He worked very fast. He had done three cathedrals by the time he was 30.

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It must be said that he relied very heavily indeed

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on a good builder, George Myers.

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He understood the structure of medieval buildings

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so he could put in the right kind of foundations

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so that things didn't fall down.

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For Pugin, there was no difference between professional relationships and personal relationships.

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Everyone was a friend as well as a colleague - he certainly was not a snob.

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Also, it is much more practical once you have got a team together -

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a builder, a metal-worker, a decorator,

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Minton up in Stoke doing the tiles.

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You all know each other very well.

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Our next hymn comes from a church

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built by another of his contemporaries, Joseph Hansom.

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Pugin often complained that Hansom stole his ideas,

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and the design of St Walburge's in Preston

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is certainly impressive,

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topped, as it is, by the tallest spire

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of any parish church in England.

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What you think his greatest legacy is?

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I think it is the idea

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that architecture is a social and moral force.

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It's not just about putting up a building.

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It's not just about function.

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It has a role to play in the way that we live our lives.

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And if we feel there's something wrong with our cities,

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there's probably something wrong with ourselves,

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and you can't separate these things out.

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'He believed in Christianity in an active way,'

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affecting the whole community,

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enhancing the whole community,

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blessing the whole community.

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'I think we all feel very privileged for the life that we've had.

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'And I think that, in return for that,

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'it's fundamental that people are able to offer something'

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to enable others to reach their potential.

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I think Pugin had the same through the buildings that he built,

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insofar as, if people could belong in these churches,

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if they felt safe and secure, the likelihood is

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that they would then be able to contribute

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and in the end, through their prayer, through the combined use

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of the community within the church, to thrive.

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That Christians should follow Jesus's example

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in actively supporting justice and peace

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is at the heart of our next hymn.

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The words are by Catholic convert,

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writer, and social commentator, GK Chesterton,

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and are sung to an old English folk tune,

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adapted by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

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The hymn was first published in English Hymnal,

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founded at the Gothic Revival Anglican church

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of St Mary the Virgin, in London's Primrose Hill.

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He'd always loved the sea. He was a keen and very skilled sailor.

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He also had a lugger, a boat that took tourists out in the summer,

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and went out salvaging for wrecks in the winter.

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And he had a very affectionate and enduring admiration for sailors.

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There were frequent shipwrecks here on Goodwin Sands.

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Occasionally he would bring sailors, if they had drowned,

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he would arrange for them to have a Catholic funeral here.

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Pugin himself left this storm-tossed life

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for his eternal rest on September 14th, 1852.

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His doctor said that he'd done the work of 100 years in just 40.

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Among Catholics and Protestants, Pugin's legacy helped

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to revive a renewed respect for our shared Christian heritage

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and holy sites like Wolsingham, once a place of English pilgrimage,

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second in importance only to Canterbury,

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and now home to both Anglican and Catholic shrines to the Virgin Mary.

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The Gothic architecture popularised by Augustus Pugin

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captured the imagination of Christians of all denominations,

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and although stone, bricks and mortar may decay,

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Pugin's legacy and the faith that inspired him lives on.

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Deep down, what inspires me most is that this will be a shrine,

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a place of pilgrimage, a monument to Christianity,

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and it's wonderful to be able to welcome people from all over the country and beyond

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and to be able to tell our story, our English story,

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about Christianity and about Pugin.

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I think sometimes it's very difficult to verbalise your own faith,

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but I believe that God is our creator,

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that, hopefully, he's our teacher and our friend,

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but, ultimately, he's our saviour,

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and that the work we do, we need to strive

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to be able to use the talents effectively that we have.

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Our final hymn comes from Arundel Cathedral,

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built by Pugin's contemporary and rival, Joseph Hansom.

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Whatever their professional differences,

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their shared mission was to bring Christian architecture to the world.

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Next week, Sally Magnusson is in Dunblane in central Scotland,

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home of the UK's only boarding school

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for the children of the military.

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And Dunblane's cathedral is the wonderful setting for our hymns.

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