Standing Proof of the Degeneracy of Modern Times”: Architecture, Society, and the Medievalism of A. W. N. Pugin

  • Corinna M. Wagner


Architect, artist, antiquary, designer, and critic A. W. N. Pugin was not always an agreeable man. In private and in public, he lashed out mercilessly, often venomously, at the “degraded” state of architecture, at contemporary culture, and at religious and political figures, past and present. “I as you know,” he stated unequivocally in one letter, “abominate the world & fashions & the emptiness of Society.”1 His personal correspondence catalogues the various religious denominations and political associations that he held responsible for the deplorable state of modern culture and society. Among them were Pagans, “hereticks,” infidels, “Mahometans,” Puritans, Calvinists, Methodists, Lutherans, Dissenters, deists, Baptists, “Westleyans,” Anglican “schismaticks,” and also rationalists, republicans, socialists, democrats, liberals, “Levellers,” and “revolutionary radicals.”2 As these competing sects “struggle for superiority,” they obliterate any semblance of cultural unity and religious concord, thus rendering the nation a house divided that must necessarily fall.3


Design Axiom Modern Building Modern Architecture Parish Church Aesthetic Beauty 
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  1. 1.
    A. W. N. Pugin, The Collected Letters of A. W N. Pugin, vol. 2, ed. Margaret Belcher (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 379.Google Scholar
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    Pugin’s treatises and correspondence are littered with criticism of various sects and denominations. In just one example, he writes to register his disapproval of the practice of placing benches in churches, and comments contentiously that even “the Anglicans[,] schismaticks as they are, hereticks as they are have never dared to substitute a bench for a font. [S]uch an idea has only been put in force by the puritans & Calvinists” (Letters 1:310). The catalogue of examples I have given here are culled from A. W. N. Pugin, The Collected Letters of A.W.N. Pugin, vol. 1, ed. Margaret Belcher (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 169, 316, 261, 276, 336, 171, 310, and 41 and A. W. N. Pugin, Collected Letters, vol. 2, 92.Google Scholar
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    Bentham, Panopticon, 39; See Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (New York: Vintage, 1995), 205.Google Scholar
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© Lorretta M. Holloway and Jennifer A. Palmgren 2005

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  • Corinna M. Wagner

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