THEWORD "CHURCH" once meant pointed windows and arches, stained glass, hushed voices, brass, candlesticks and an odour of incense. This idea is largely Victorian and was invented by Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, the architect of many fine Catholic churches, monasteries, convents and seminaries.
He decorated the Houses of Parliament and designed the familiar outline of Big Ben. Pugin died in 1852 aged 40. He married three times, begot eight children and designed as much as any hard-working architect could have accomplished in those days in eighty years.
He dressed as a sailor, liked boats, hated Protestantism, became a Catholic, loved beauty, rood screens, plainsong and words like orphrey, chasuble, cope and pyx. He believed that the only Christian architecture was Gothic and said Catholics had a religious obligation to encourage it and no other style.
Pugin did not originate the Gothic Revival. The Middle Ages had been discovered in the 18th century and popularised in the novels of Sir Walter Scott. What he rediscovered was the structural logic of Gothic.
This meant that mid and late-Victorian Gothic architecture could not have taken any other course. Pugin gave Gothic Revival buildings and churches structural and liturgical authenticity.
Catholic and Anglican architects thereafter put Pugin's Gothic ideas into stone,glass, wood, metal, embroidery, jewellery, paint
and tiles until well into the present century. "Pugin: A Gothic Passion" (at the Victoria & Albert Museum until 11 September) does something to recreate the fervour and conviction of Pugin's ideals.
Worship today is marked by simplicity and follows primitive models which try to make it more intelligible. There is not much possibility of an immediate return to mystery and dim religious light, to screens and flickering tapers in front of gilded altars, but this exhibition gives an impression of what once did happen. It should not be missed.