How our Catholic heritage is overlooked

The Roman Catholic church has a glorious history of fine architecture which has been largely overlooked, a new book claims.

A Glimpse of Heaven, by Christopher Martin, is being published by English Heritage as part of its campaign to save Britain's historic places of worship, many of which are in a serious state of disrepair.

Simon Thurley, chief executive of English Heritage, said it was time Catholic buildings were recognised. "As a group, they have been largely overlooked by architectural historians who have sometimes drawn unfair and inappropriate comparisons with Anglican places of worship," Dr Thurley said.

The research for A Glimpse of Heaven uncovered an astonishing diversity of styles from the chapels of Catholic aristocrats, to Gothic masterpieces by artists such as A W N Pugin, Classical basilicas and even Arts and Crafts and Modern churches.

Their history reflects that of the Catholic Church in Britain from the Reformation, when Catholic worship became illegal for two centuries, through to the 1791 Catholic Relief Act to Catholic emancipation in 1832.

Dr Thurley said it was partly because the majority of the 3,000 Catholic churches were Victorian that they had been ignored.

"It was only 30 years ago that Victorian architecture was deeply unfashionable and certainly 40 years ago people were knocking it down left, right and centre," he said.

Only 18 per cent of Catholic places of worship are listed compared to 90 per cent of Anglican churches. Yet, he said, pilot projects suggested many more should be on the protected list.

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