A Brief History of St Augustine’s
This is the home of the Gothic Revival, as the personal church of the man who built the Houses of Parliament – Augustus Pugin.
Pugin began building this church in 1844, after he moved into his home, The Grange, next door. He wrote, “I have a delightful plan of a flint seaside church and everything gives way to that.” It was to be the model of his ‘True Principles’ of architecture, reviving the gothic designs that he loved and emulated.
This is the only church that Pugin designed and paid for himself. That meant that he could carry out his designs as he thought they should be done, rather than having a patron request particular features.
The finest collaborators of Pugin’s work were used on St Augustine’s. John Hardman made the intricate metalwork and the beautiful stained glass. Herbert Minton made the encaustic tiles that cover the floor. George Myers made the wonderful stonework and carvings. Pugin often used these people on his projects, and he wanted the best for St Augustine’s.
The church was roofed in during 1847, after the Schoolroom had been used as a church since 1845. In 1846 Pugin gave St Augustine’s to the Catholic Church, though he continued to pour his own resources and time into it. The church was consecrated on 15th August 1850 and has been used for Catholic worship ever since.
Pugin’s Death and Subsequent Work
St Augustine’s is a very personal building for Pugin. Perhaps the most personal area is the chantry chapel he built for himself and his family. The floor is covered with his coat of arms and monogram, and there are memorial plaques to his family on the walls.
Pugin died on 14th September 1852, aged 40. He was buried beneath his chantry chapel in the church, and his effigy was designed by his son, Edward. The church was mostly finished, but his sons continued to construct their father’s vision. They completed the north and west cloisters and added chapels to the north cloister. The St Augustine Window and the Lady Chapel gates were added by the Pugin Memorial Committee in memory of Pugin. New windows and Stations of the Cross were added later. The tower was never built to its complete height, nor was the dreamed-of spire added.
In 1856 monks arrived from Italy at the invitation of the Archbishop of Southwark. Their leader was an Englishman, Dom Wilfrid Alcock OSB, and they set up their monastery in the presbytery next door. Eventually they bought land opposite St Augustine’s from the Pugin family, and Edward Pugin built the monastery which stands today (now the Divine Retreat Centre UK). St Augustine’s was given to the care of the monastery and served as the Abbey Church.
The monks ran a school between 1865 and 1995, and founded many of the area’s parishes. They were one of the principal monasteries of England, and were the first Benedictine monastery to be founded in England since the Reformation. In 2011 the monks left Ramsgate to live in different buildings in Surrey.
1897 and 1997 Celebrations
St Augustine’s was a centre of celebration in 1897 and 1997 for the 1,300th and 1,400th anniversaries of the landing of St Augustine not far from this site.
In 1897 the whole English Catholic hierarchy, along with many priests and religious, as well as foreign Catholic clergy, and thousands of people came to St Augustine’s Cross – the traditional landing site of St Augustine, not far away – for a special Mass celebrated by the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vaughan. His titular church in Rome was the church of San Gregorio on the Caelian Hill, from where St Augustine began his journey to England. There were other celebrations in Ramsgate, including at St Augustine’s Abbey.
In 1997 there were many celebrations for the 1,400th anniversary. There were celebrations in the ruins of the original St Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury, and within the grounds of St Augustine’s Abbey in Ramsgate.
The Shrine and National Pugin Centre
On 1st March 2012, Archbishop Peter Smith decreed that St Augustine’s should henceforth be the Shrine of St Augustine of England. This marked the end of 474 years without a shrine to St Augustine in Kent, after his original shrine-tomb was destroyed during the Reformation.
Now thousands of pilgrims come each year to venerate St Augustine here at his shrine.
The year 2012 marked the bicentenary of the birth of Augustus Pugin. Interest has been growing in Pugin and his legacy, and since 2014 St Augustine’s has been open every day for visitors. Many people visit both Pugin’s home next door and this, his church, during special open weekends as well as each Wednesday afternoon. In 2015 the Heritage Lottery Fund granted money to create an Education, Research, and Visitor Centre in Pugin’s buildings on this site.
We are open and welcome thousands of cultural visitors each year.