Pugin, A. Welby, The Present State of Ecclesiastical Architecture in England and some remarks relative to Ecclesiastical Architecture and Decoration, (February 1842) Plate 2
Pugin, A. Welby, The Present State of Ecclesiastical Architecture in England and some remarks relative to Ecclesiastical Architecture and Decoration, (February 1842) Plate 5
Pugin, A. Welby, The Present State of Ecclesiastical Architecture in England and some remarks relative to Ecclesiastical Architecture and Decoration, (February 1842) Plate 12: The Great Rood Screen
You may have seen the webpage of The Pugin Society on St. George’s Cathedral, Southwark: 1841-1848
It has some interesting photographs of the Cathedral as built and the remnants of original Pugin which have survived. (especially the Petre Chantry)
On 4th July 1848 the Church was consecrated. The then co-adjutor Vicar-Apostolic of the London District Nicholas Patrick Stephen Wiseman (1802–1865) delivered the homily. It was a unique occasion: the first time since the Reformation, when 14 bishops and 240 priests were present, and six religious orders of men also being represented
Wiseman`s biographer described the occasion thus:
"On July 4, 1848, Dr. Wiseman assisted at the solemn opening of St. George's Church, Southwark, now known as St. George's Cathedral, in St. George's Fields, the chief centre of the Gordon rioters of 1780. This event was a landmark in the history of the Catholics of London. St. George's was no ' Mass house ' on whose faÇade the architect was afraid even to trace a cross, but a Gothic church of ample proportions, designed by Pugin.
Two hundred and forty priests were present at the opening. Fourteen bishops attended, among them several from France—the Bishops of Tournai, Liege, Luxembourg, and Treves. The Archbishop of Paris, Monsignor Affre, had been invited, but a week before the event he was shot on the barricades, in his courageous endeavour to induce the Paris mob to lay down their arms.
Great interest was excited in London by the opening of St. George's, and the interest was not unfriendly. 'The Illustrated London News' sent an artist to sketch the function, and large crowds of spectators were present in the church. ' Strange indeed,' said a writer in the journal just named, ' are the mutations of localities in this vast metropolis, and not the least remarkable of them is that the location of the " No Popery " riots of 1780 should within a lifetime become the site of a Roman Catholic church—the largest erected in England since the Reformation.'
In the procession, besides the secular clergy, were representatives of the Benedictines, the Cistercians, the Dominicans, the Franciscans, the Passionists, and the Oratorians. Wiseman preached the sermon, and among those assisting at the function were the present Archbishop of Trebizond (Monsignor Stonor), as acolyte, and the present Lord Acton (then Sir John Acton) as incense-bearer."
(Wilfrid Ward, The Life and Times of Cardinal Wiseman (1897) Volume I)
However, it was not until two years later, when the English Hierarchy was restored, that St George’s was known as a cathedral.
Until Westminster Cathedral opened some fifty years later, St George’s was the centre of Catholic worship in London
But controversy about the building was not slow in coming
One controversy arose from the construction of the Church was Pugin`s rood-screen.
The issue was first raised by The Rambler on 29th July 1848 in an unsigned letter. It opposed Pugin`s practice of building rood-screens on "Theological-artistic grounds" essentially because it obstructed the congregation`s view.
Pugin and the Gothic revivalists were suported by old English Catholics as part of the "national style". Converts favoured "Italian" styles of decoration which had developed in mainland Europe after the Reformation.
Josef L. Altholz in Chapter 1 of The Liberal Catholic Movement in England: The "Rambler" and its Contributors, 1848-1864, Burns and Oates (London) (1962) described the dispute in this way:
"The first major controversy of the Rambler was on a question of architecture. It opened on 29 July 1848, with a letter by "X" on "Rood- Screens," opposing Pugin's practice of building rood-screens on " theologico- artistic" grounds, arguing that screens obstructed the congregation's view of the sacramental acts (I, 292-7). All correspondence in the Rambler was anonymous, the correspondents arbitrarily choosing letters to identify themselves.
Only one correspondent in this controversy identified himself by name: W. G. Ward, who later acknowledged that he was "H." Most articles were unsigned, including all those for which the editor considered himself responsible; some of the "communicated" articles were signed by initials. The editor desiring to stir up some interest, invited discussion on the subject, and promptly found himself flooded with letters.
The Rambler, in raising the question, had unwarily trod on a very sensitive area of feeling among Catholics.
The Gothic revival led by Pugin had found particular support among the old Catholics, who regarded it as the appropriate national style. The converts, who wished to follow Roman models as closely as possible, favoured "Italian" styles of decoration and devotion which had developed on the Continent after the end of the Middle Ages.
Thus the architectural conflict merged with other conflicts between converts and old Catholics; at the same time, by becoming a battle between the "national" and the "Roman" tendencies in the Church, it took on quasi-theological overtones.
The Rambler took the "Roman" side, partly because Capes at that time shared the general attitude of the converts, but even more because he found that the Gothic style could not meet the actual needs of the English Catholics for numerous cheap churches, built among the poor, and suited to those devotions which they found most congenial. The controversy became embittered because of the tone and language of Pugin, who regarded Gothic as the only truly Catholic style, which it was almost a dogma of faith to support and heresy to oppose.
Indeed, he was not above impugning the orthodoxy of his opponents. Pugin published a strong letter in The Tablet on 2 September 1848, warning against "a system of deadly enmity to the fundamentals of Church architecture and Christian art" (cited Ward, Sequel, II. 270). and a pamphlet, An Earnest Appeal for the Revival of the Ancient Plain Song in 1850 denouncing "this miserable system of modern degeneracy" as a subversive attempt "to change the whole nature of the divine services of the Catholic Church" and as a display of "Methodism" (pp. 3-4).
This brought forth a response from Capes, who was shocked and somewhat disillusioned by this style of controversy among Catholics, but who was quite capable of replying in kind. In "Mr. Pugin and the 'Rambler'," Capes charged Pugin with speaking more as an Anglican than as a Catholic, implying that the Church had fallen in perfection since the Middle Ages, and fostering "a belief that the Church has actually done wrong in adopting the peculiar externals which characterise her in modern times" (V (April 1850), 374). Newman took much the same position as Capes in his remarks on architecture in the Idea of a University (1854): "an obsolete discipline may be a present heresy."
Pugin defended himself, and assailed the "architectual heresies" of the Rambler -- "a body of mutineers" who were "exciting this insane, I may almost say impious, movement against the restoration of old Catholic solemnity" in a new pamphlet (Some Remarks, pp. 8, 24-5); and the small war between "Goths" and "anti-Goths" continued. Only Pugin's death in 1852 put an end to the controversy."
Plus Ça change.
Pugin was not happy himself with the building. In 1850 he wrote:
"St. George s was spoilt by the very instructions laid down by the committee, that it was to hold 3000 people on the floor at_a limited price; in consequence, height, proportion, every thing, was sacrificed to meet these conditions."
The critic Ruskin did not like it either.
But he thought the fault was Pugin`s. But one wonders if the difference between the two was ideological and personal rather than aesthetic. He wrote:
"St. George s was not high enough for want of money ? But was it want of money that made you put that blunt, overloaded, laborious ogee door into the side of it ? Was it for lack of funds that you sunk the tracery of the parapet in its clumsy zigzags ? Was it in parsimony that you buried its paltry pinnacles in that eruption of diseased crockets ? or in pecuniary embarrassment that you set up the belfry foolscaps, with the mimicry of dormer windows, which nobody can ever reach nor look out of? Not so, but in mere incapability of better things.
I am sorry to have to speak thus of any living architect ; and there is much in this man, if he were rightly estimated, which one might both regard and profit by. He has a most sincere love for his profession, a heartily honest enthusiasm for pixes and piscinas ; and though he will never design so much as a pix or a piscina thoroughly well, yet better than most of the experimental architects of the day. Employ him by all means, but on small work. Expect no cathedrals of him ; but no one, at present, can design a better finial. That is an exceedingly beautiful one over the western door of St. George s ; and there is some spirited impishness and switching of tails in the supporting figures at the imposts. Only do not allow his good designing of finials to be employed as an evidence in matters of divinity, nor thence deduce the incompatibility of Protestantism and art."
(Ruskin, The Stones of Venice, Volume I, Appendix 12)
Finally a bitter and very sad irony. Pugin was last hospitalised at the Bethlem Hospital (Bedlam) [now the home of the Imperial War Museum] in sight of St George's, the cathedral for which he had had such high hopes and in which he and his third wife, Jane had exchanged vows only a few years before