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St George's Cathedral (Lambeth Road)
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St George's Cathedral (Lambeth Road)

St George's Cathedral is an interesting Gothic work built by Romilly Craze in 1953-8. It is also a restoration of A. W. N. Pugin's bombed church of 1840-8. Pugin was the most forceful propagandist of the Gothic Revival in the first half of the 19th century. When he married his third wife, Jane Knill, at St George's in 1848, he even said that he had at last found a Gothic woman, meaning that she shared his mediaevalist passion. He had immense capabilities, but lacked commensurate opportunities. Here at St George's, want of money stopped his original design, and even the second, less ambitious scheme was never accorded its tower and spire and could not even be given a clerestory. His church was built as a parish church, not as a cathedral, and it must be said that its nave and chancel were not of cathedral size. Craze's post-war nave is certainly worthy of a cathedral - a great improvement on what it replaced - but he did not match Pugin's command of mediaeval detail.

St George's Cathedral (Lambeth Road)

Romilly Craze made a true cathedral of St George's in his post-war rebuilding by giving it extra height.

It is a great irony of history that this Catholic cathedral stands on part of St George's Fields, where Lord George Gordon's meeting of the Protestant Association in 1780 prompted the Gordon Riots against Roman Catholics. The church that was started in 1840 replaced a small chapel in nearby London Road and represented a mission that had been founded as early as 1786. So the church was an old foundation in modern Roman Catholic terms. In the 19th century it was also of greater Catholic significance in London, because there was no Westminster Cathedral until 1903. The first head of the revived Catholic hierarchy, Cardinal Wiseman, was enthroned in St George's in 1850 and lived briefly in its clergy house.

St George's Cathedral (Lambeth Road)

The view from the nave to the Petre Chantry (by A. W. N. Pugin) and the day chapel beyond.

Thomas Doyle was the founder of the cathedral. He was a priest in the London Road Chapel from 1820. Between 1852 and his death in 1879 he was Provost of the Chapter. His achievement was considerable, for the congregation was largely a poor one. Pugin became the architect at the insistence of the Earl of Shrewsbury, a Catholic grandee of the time. At the opening in 1848, the Earl collected the offertory, with the Earl of Arundel, from among a very grand gathering. The Archbishop of Paris could not attend because of the revolution in Paris; a few days later he was dead, having been shot in the street.

St George's Cathedral (Lambeth Road)

The monument to Thomas Doyle, founder and Provost of the cathedral (died 1879)

The cathedral is 75 metres (247 ft) long and is built of yellow Sussex brick and Portland stone dressings. The west tower, which Craze intended to rise to 56 metres (183 ft), remains a stump. The interior is markedly light and spacious, for Craze's tall nave does possess a clerestory, and there is comparatively little stained glass. The nave is impressive architecturally but it is very plain. A vault was intended, but economy led to the use of transverse stone arches with a boarded ceiling in between. The ceiling's eight bays are decorated with symbols of biblical scenes from the Creation to the Passion. All the interesting fittings and adornments are towards the east end. The Blessed Sacrament chapel at the east end of the north aisle still has Pugin's fittings: the altar, reredos, tiles and gates. Their survival is fortunate and surprising. Of particular note are the two chantry chapels. The Knill Chantry stands in the north aisle and is the finest work in the cathedral. It was designed by Edward Pugin after his father's death and was opened in 1857. It is a low, vaulted chapel with an openwork screen to the aisle. Just to the west of it, a stained-glass window by Goddard & Gibbs commemorates Pope John Paul II's visit to the cathedral in 1982. He came to anoint the sick, and that is the theme of the window. In the same aisle there are the monuments to Thomas Doyle, the founder (died 1879), and Archbishop Peter Amigo (died 1949). They both consist of a recumbent effigy on a table-tomb, but in Provost Doyle's case the decorative detail is far more substantial. His monument stands in an arched recess. Archbishop Amigo was Bishop of Southwark for 45 years and was much loved by his flock. He suffered the torment of seeing his cathedral in ruins in 1941. His one appearance on the national stage came in 1920 when he attracted widespread criticism, including some from English Catholics, for his indulgence of an Irish nationalist in the troubles of Lloyd George's time. As a Gibraltarian, Amigo might have been expected to be a robust British patriot, but his flock was largely of Irish origin.

St George's Cathedral (Lambeth Road)

The altar of the Knill Chantry is the focus of the finest work in the cathedral, by Edward Pugin.

The Petre Chantry by A. W. N. Pugin, 1848-9, is a small vaulted enclosure on the south side, between the two arches that lead into the day chapel. It commemorates Edward Petre (died 1848), a friend of Provost Doyle and a benefactor of St George's. The day chapel is a post-war extension, as is the baptistery to the south of the west door. The carved stone Stations of the Cross were the work of H. J. Youngman. The stained glass in the east window, by Harry Clarke, depicts the Crucifixion and numerous saints and Christian symbols. The same studio designed the west window in 1960, showing the Coronation of the Virgin.

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