“[M]y whole soul is devoted to building this church here” wrote Pugin to the Earl of Shrewsbury.
St Augustine’s Church is the ‘ideal Church’ of Augustus Welby Pugin (1812-1852) who constructed it between 1845-1852 next to his home ‘the Grange’ according to his ‘true principles of Christian architecture’. He described it as ‘my own child’ and it was to be ‘a revival of the old Kentish churches stone & flint’, with a chantry chapel ‘that may be the burial place of my family’.
It stands as symbol of the Catholic revival of the 19th century which Pugin’s own life and conversion in 1835 epitomises. The church is also an integral part of Pugin’s own Gothic revival which inspired the nation at large. It was being constructed at the same time that Pugin was designing the new Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.
Pugin moved to St Augustine’s in 1843 specifically ‘close to the spot where blessed Austin landed’. His building of the church therefore stands as a monument to the arrival of Christianity to Anglo-Saxon England recalling the landing of St Augustine in 597AD. Pugin was keen to show that Catholicism and Gothic were part of the DNA of English identity and the church emphasises and celebrates the English saints in a particular way.
Pugin spared nothing in building this church and he would only use the finest material and workmen. He wrote to his son Edward, ‘I am giving you the best architectural lessons I can; watch the church’. The church provided Mass for local Catholics and visitors before a parish was formed. Ramsgate’s first post-reformation Catholic school was run from the site. At his death he gifted the Church to the Catholic community, for he always intended it to be “a Parochial church” (Pugin’s Letters).
The church’s exterior is stone covered with traditional hardy flint to withstand the weather. Its interior is also lined with Whitby stone forging a link with the great seaside church of St Hilda. There is exquisite decoration with stone and wood carvings throughout, unique statues, stained glass and ornate tiles. Pugin’s team for the church included other well knownassociates George Myers for construction, John Hardman Powell for the metalwork and especially stained glass and Herbert Minton for the tiles. Pugin died in 1852 before completing the project but the work was continued until 1893 and involved Edward Pugin (1834-75) and Peter Paul Pugin (1851-1904) and many of the original associates and their families.
St Augustine’s was consecrated in 1884 and Grade-1 listed only in 1988. From 1856 until 2010 the church was run by the Benedictine monks of St Augustine’s Abbey (which was constructed opposite by Edward Pugin). In 2010 the Benedictine Monks withdrew from the Church and it came under the jurisdiction of the Parish of SS Ethelbert and Gertrude, Ramsgate and Minster. In February 2011 after a sizeable grant from English Heritage, the church’s future was assured. It serves as a functioning local church of the Ramsgate and Minster Catholic parish and since March 1st 2012 as an official shrine of St Augustine for pilgrimage. It remains for all a monument of serious historical importance and site of great architectural, artistic and culture significance for the wider public.