Catholic Church Interiors in Fin-de-Siècle Literature (2023)

  • 1 Unless otherwise specified, the adjective Catholic will be used in the sense both of Roman Catholi (...)

1Nowhere is the fin-de-siècle fascination with the forms and rites of the Catholic liturgy more perceptible than in the descriptions of church interiors found in the works of such writers as Lionel Johnson (1867–1902), Ernest Dowson (1867–1900), Theodore Wratislaw (1871–1933) and Oscar Wilde (1854–1900), who see churches as retreats set apart from the ugliness and mediocrity of Victorian England, filled with incense, organ music, and coloured light filtering through medieval stained-glass windows. This article explores how these literary representations of church interiors reflect contemporary debates about the spatial organisation and decoration of churches. Drawing on architectural historian William Whyte’s analyses of changing attitudes to church architecture in the 19thcentury in Unlocking the Church: The Lost Secrets of Victorian Sacred Space(2017), it intends to show how the aestheticised representations of church interiors in late Victorian literature are deeply marked by a rejection of the Protestant aniconic, congregation-centred approach to church design, in favour of an architecture of affect and sensation, where the interior organisation of space and the ornamentation lead the worshipper to experience the divine through a sensory overload.1

2Church interiors in fin-de-siècle literary texts are usually constructed aesthetically in opposition to an exterior—a polarised vision of space which mirrors the Decadent view of the Catholic Church as a kind of shelter, a space radically antagonistic to the industrialised, utilitarian urban world outside (the theme of the refuge is central to fin-de-siècle literature, as illustrated in K.-J.Huysmans’s À rebours, published in1884, a novel entirely devoted to the evocation of Des Esseintes’s retreat to an isolated house in Fontenay-aux-Roses, far from the hustle and bustle of the city). The incompatibility between an ideal of beauty, embodied in the aesthetic experience of entering a Catholic church, and the coarseness of the modern world, is reflected in a letter by the poet Ernest Dowson to his friend Arthur Moore, written in1891, a few months before the former’s conversion to Roman Catholicism.

You ought to have come to N.D. de France tonight. There was a procession after Vespers of the Children of Mary.... It was a wonderful & beautiful situation: the church—rather dark the smell of incense—the long line of graceful little girls all with their white veils over their heads—banners—: a few sad faced nuns—and last of all the priest carrying the Host, vested in white—censed by an acolyte who walked backwards—tossing his censer up ‘like a great gilt flower’: and to come outside afterwards—London again—the sullen streets and the sordid people & Leicester Square. (Dowson1967, 172‒73)

3All the clichés of fin-de-siècle Catholicism can be found here: incense, Latin, the acolyte, disincarnate nuns, Marian devotion, and, most strikingly, the opposition between this picturesque and symbolically rich Catholic microcosm and the dull world outside it. Asimilar opposition emerges in Lionel Johnson’s sonnet ‘Our Lady of France’, written in the same year as Dowson’s poem(1891), which also refers to the French Catholic parish in London, and which begins with those lines:

Leave we awhile the turmoil of the town;
Leave we the sullen gloom, the faces full of care:
Stay we awhile and dream, within this place of prayer,
Stay we, and pray, and dream: till our hearts die down
Thoughts of the world, unkind and weary: till Christ crown
Laborious day with love. Hark! On the fragrant air,
Music of France, voices of France, fall piercing fair
(Johnson 1982, 13‒14)

4The poem begins with a deliberate displacement (‘Leave we’), then unfolds around an invocation of the foreignness of the place, which is the source of its beauty (‘Music of France, voices of France’). The church becomes a space of spiritual expatriation in the heart of London, an exterior interior. The opposition in Dowson’s letter and Johnson’s poem between ‘the turmoil of the town’, ‘the sullen gloom’, ‘the sullen streets and the sordid people’ on the one hand (notably, both writers use the adjective ‘sullen’ to describe the exterior world), and the peaceful, dark interior of the church with its incense-laden air on the other hand, is a recurrent theme in Decadent poetry. The interior of the church is represented as a distinct, radically separate sacred space.

5There is theological ground for such a view. Whereas in most Protestant denominations a church is essentially a functional building used for Sunday worship, churches in Catholicism are holy, consecrated spaces. The Protestant theologian Henry Mottu comments on this distinction in the following terms:

pour les protestants, le sacré n’est pas un ordre ou un lieu à part, hors de la réalité quotidienne, mais il est une exigence, un principe moral: «le sacré de ce qui doit être» (holiness of what ought to be). Le protestantisme, en première analyse, est donc la dissolution de l’opposition entre sacré et profane, car la grâce ne saurait s’identifier à aucune réalité visible, humaine, fût-elle l’Église et ses sacrements. Dieu seul est sacré. (Mottu1338)

6Dowson and Johnson distance themselves from this Protestant dissolution of the distinction between the secular and the sacred: for them, to enter a Catholic church is to tear themselves away from the profane world of the English city, and to enter a holy space. Many fin-de-siècle texts illustrate this interior-exterior dialectic. Ernest Dowson’s poem ‘Benedictio Domini’, for instance, like Johnson’s ‘Our Lady of France’, contrasts the silent, contemplative darkness of a Catholic church with the noise of the city around it:

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Without, the sullen noises of the street!
The voice of London, inarticulate,
Hoarse and blaspheming, surges in to meet
The silent blessing of the Immaculate.

Dark is the church, and dim the worshippers,
Hushed with bowed heads as though by some old spell,
While through the incense-laden air there stirs
The admonition of a silver bell.

Dark is the church, save where the altar stands,
Dressed like a bride, illustrious with light,
Where one old priest exalts with tremulous hands
The one true solace of man’s fallen plight.

Strange silence here: without, the sounding street
Heralds the world’s swift passage to the fire:
O benediction, perfect and complete!
When shall men cease to suffer and desire?
(Dowson1934, 18)

7The semantic series on noise that emerges in the first stanza (‘noises’, ‘voice’, ‘inarticulate’, ‘hoarse’), taken up by the adjective ‘sounding’ in the last stanza, is contrasted with the lexical field of silence in the description of the church (‘silent’, ‘hushed’, ‘silence’). The emphasis on the adverb ‘without’, which is the first word of the poem, and the chiasmus in the last stanza constructed around the adverbs of place ‘here’ and ‘without’ (‘Strange silence here: without, the sounding street’) underline the radical incompatibility of the exterior world and the interior space of the church.

8The opposition between the secular and the sacred takes on a different meaning in Theodore Wratislaw’s 1893 poem ‘Palm Sunday’, which also describes the celebration of mass in a Catholic church in London, but follows the opposite movement. Whereas Johnson’s ‘Our Lady of France’ and Dowson’s ‘Benedictio Domini’ begin with the hustle and bustle of the city outside, before taking the reader into the quiet space of the church, ‘Palm Sunday’ opens inside the church, and ends outside, in Hyde Park:

The clouds of incense mounting in the air,
The heavy fervent smell,
Palm branches waving by the altar-stair,
While we redeemed from hell,

We knelt together humbly, she and I,
Before the red-stained East,
To seek for mercy for our sin, as high
The purple-vestured priest

Held up the chalice to the face of God,
And a long silence fell,
Three times and as the wine became God’s blood
Thrice rang the smitten bell.

Then like two slaves regaining liberty,
When the long mass was done,
With prayer and sadness left behind us, we
Emerged into the sun,

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Forgot what hearts had felt or eyes had seen
And gave ourselves to mark
Friends’ faces as we talked and strolled between
The toilettes of Hyde Park.

9The sacred awe induced by the celebration of mass in the church is followed by a sense of frivolity and also of a kind of relief when the two protagonists leave the church. The sensorily overloaded space of the church is succeeded by the sunny space of the park, a place for carefree walks and sociability. The poem presents a purely aesthetic vision of the interior of the church: it is above all the stage for intense and ephemeral sensations, which the two characters forget as soon as they leave the church—just as they would leave the theatre after a performance. This symbolic opposition between a space saturated with sacred elements and a profane space is also found in the third sonnet of Wratislaw’s1896 series of love poems entitled ‘Songs to Elizabeth’. The quatrains describe the end of mass and the passage from the church to the outside world. The atmosphere inside the church suggests an opium den rather than a place of worship: as in ‘Palm Sunday’, the church serves as a sensory stimulant, eliciting rich and intense impressions and visual and olfactory pleasure, in contrast to the blandness of the outside world:

As when the prayers and chants have passed away,
At mass, when nave and chancel are dense
With purple fumes of cloud-like curled incense,
One bows before the altar’s sovereign sway

And wanders forth into the garish day,
Waking as after slumber from the tense
And strange delight of the exalted sense
Unto the dull world’s hurry and delay:

So you being gone out of my life and soul,
Gold censer on whose breath my life was fed!
Monstrance that held of old love’s sacred bread!

I am as one that runs without a goal....

10In the tercets, we understand that the scene presented in the quatrains has a metaphorical function, expressing in an analogical mode the poet’s distress after the departure of his beloved. Here the contrast between interior and exterior only serves as a metaphoric expression of unrequited love.

11From these poets’ perspective, as in Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s two sonnets entitled ‘The Church Porch’, the threshold of the church is truly a passage between two worlds, between two incommensurable realities. This is emphasised by John Oliver Hobbes (pseudonym of the writer Pearl Craigie, another fin-de-siècle convert to Roman Catholicism), in her1897 novel The School for Saints, as she describes the moment when her characters Robert Orange and Lord Reckage enter a Jesuit church:

As the two young men crossed the threshold of the Church, the sight which opened before them was like a dream imprisoned in a rock. The dark stone cavernous building, where shadowy forms were kneeling in prayer and praise, seemed a hollow not made with hands, and the light on the high altar shone through the mist of incense as something wholly supernatural yet living and sacred. (Hobbes217‒18)

12In addition to the elements identified in the poets quoted above (the darkness, the incense, the kneeling figures), this passage is also imbued with a supernatural, almost fantastic atmosphere. The church is no longer a monument built by man but a kind of ghostly cave, filled with disembodied shadows, transfigured by the light of the candles whose glow emerges from a darkness clouded by incense. We are no longer in the tangible universe of the city, but in ‘a dream imprisoned in rock’.

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13This construct of the church interior as radically opposed to the exterior world is reflective of what William Whyte calls the ‘notion that the church building should inspire a particular economy of emotion—should be set apart from the emotional landscape of the outside world’ (Whyte80). For him, this is a typically Victorian notion. He argues that ‘the belief that the church was a distinctively different sort of building—and one that evoked emotions differently’ gained universal acceptance in the Victorian era, when the dominant understanding of church buildings became what he calls the ‘architecture of affect’ (Whyte92). He argues that ‘the first few decades of Victoria’s reign... saw the evolution of a new idea of affective architecture: architecture that shaped the emotions by touching the senses’, and he explains that ‘the notion that churches should move worshippers, that buildings should themselves shape spiritual experience, marked a radical departure from the Protestant architecture of the recent past’. (Whyte69)

14To illustrate this point, he quotes John Harvey’s study of 18th–century Welsh chapels. According to Harvey, the architecture of Protestant worship before the Victorian era was based on two principles: first, it drew attention to the congregation, to the community of the faithful rather than to the celebrant or to the furnishings and decoration; secondly, the spare interior, creating a visually neutral context of worship, was an attempt at conveying the idea that God was invisible. This is what anthropologist David Morgan calls ‘sublation’(168‒70), which Whyte defines as ‘the deliberate downplaying of one sense (in this case, sight) in order to emphasise another (in this case, hearing)’(72).

15Obviously, the way church interiors are represented in fin-de-siècle literature is completely at odds with this aniconic tendency of Protestant architecture. To begin with, the community of worshippers is strikingly absent from these texts: the focus is not on the congregation, but on the altar, and on what is going on around the altar (the celebration of the sacrifice of mass, the incense, the altar lights, the priest and his acolytes, etc). Moreover, the context of worship in fin-de-siècle representations of church interiors is anything but auditory and transparent; on the contrary, it is extremely visual (with an emphasis on incense, stained glass, colours) and material, with the central presence of objects such as the censer, the bells, the monstrance, the chalice, and the vestments—all elements which were extremely polemical in the religious context of Victorian Britain, because they were associated both with ‘Popishness’ or ‘Romishness’ (in reference to Roman Catholicism), and with ritualism, (which was perceived as the infiltration of Roman Catholic practices within the Anglican Church).

16Indeed, church decoration and liturgical practices took on a charged political dimension in the second half of the 19thcentury. In1872 the Privy Council made liturgical vestments, the use of wafer bread for communion, the eastward position of the altar, and the mixing of water and wine in the chalice illegal. The Public Worship Regulation Act was passed in August1874 to limit the growing ritualism within the Church of England, perceived as dangerously ‘Romish’. This act concerned ‘any alteration in or addition to the fabric, ornaments, or furniture... made without lawful authority’ and ‘any decoration forbidden by law’ in churches. The intense religious but also political debates about church interiors show how sensitive these issues were in the late 19thcentury. Many anti-ritualist pamphlets were published, denouncing the idolatrous practice of re-organising and adorning church interiors.

17For example, Colonel S.Dewé White denounced in1881 the fact that ‘the Ritualists have introduced into the Church Romish decorations, gorgeous processions, the lighting of candles, the use of crosses, incense, and birettas, and other objectionable innovations’ (White11). In a similar vein, in ‘Ritualism Traced to its Pagan Origins’, an1878 pamphlet, the Reverend H.C.Leonard argued that Roman Catholicism and ritualism were idolatrous because they were directly derived from the ancient Roman religion, and explained that Catholic and ritualist churches were just modern transpositions of pagan temples: ‘The worship of the Pagan temples was highly ritualistic and imposing to the senses. Music charmed the ear, and the sweet perfume of incense filled the atmosphere. In worship they turned to the East.... Candles lighted were placed on the altar.... After the sacrifice the image of the god was locked up’ like communion wafers in the tabernacle in Catholicism (Leonard7‒8). Leonard then makes parallels with the early history of the Christian Church: ‘Incense was retained in the churches, once temples. Candles were placed on altars as before the re-dedication, gorgeous vestments clothed the Christian ministers now called priests. Thus came in Ritualism’ (Leonard7‒8).

18One can see how these controversies around ritualism concerned, among other things, the organisation and decoration of church interiors, two aspects of which appear in the fin-de-siècle depictions of church interiors quoted above, i.e. the eastward position, and altar lights. The eastward position (one of the ritualist practices condemned by the Privy Council in1872) designates a liturgical usage which consists in the priest celebrating the Eucharist with his back to the congregation, facing the altar from the same side as the people—as was the practice before the Reformation, and in the Roman Catholic Church prior to the VaticanII Council—instead of ‘at the north side of the Table’, as required by the 1662 Book of Common Prayer(246). In terms of church architecture, this meant that the Eucharist was celebrated on a stone altar fixed to the back of the chancel rather than on a wooden communion table. Words themselves were fraught: the use of the word altar suggested Romish or ritualist sympathies, and was associated with ancient pagan practices. Stone altars in churches had been replaced by wooden tables in1550, and mainstream Evangelical Anglicans in the Victorian period used the phrase ‘communion table’ instead of ‘altar’, thus emphasising the utilitarian and communal character of the object rather than its intrinsic sacredness.

  • 2 In Dowson’s ‘Benedictio Domini’: ‘Dark is the church, save where the altar stands,/ Dressed like (...)

19Significantly, in the literary texts quoted above, it is the word ‘altar’ that is systematically used.2 It is also a word that Oscar Wilde is fond of. In ‘The Fisherman and His Soul’, the altar is the locus of a miracle at the end of the story: ‘And when he [the priest] had robed himself with his robes, and entered in and bowed himself before the altar, he saw that the altar was covered with strange flowers...’ (Wilde258). The story ‘The Young King’ concludes in the chancel of a church, with the young king symbolically leaving the altar after his transfiguration:And the young King came down from the high altar, and passed home through the midst of the people. But no man dared look upon his face, for it was like the face of an angel’ (Wilde222). In chapter11 of The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dorian develops ‘a special passion, also, for ecclesiastical vestments, as indeed he had for everything connected with the service of the Church’, including ‘altar frontals of crimson, velvet and blue linen’ (Wilde105). And in DeProfundis, Wilde imagines a faithless religion that would preserve the externals of Catholicism, with the altar remaining the focus of a new agnostic liturgy: ‘I would like to found an order for those who cannot believe: the Confraternity of the Fatherless one might call it, where on an altar, on which no taper burned, a priest, in whose heart peace had no dwelling, might celebrate with unblessed bread and a chalice empty of wine’ (Wilde1019).

  • 3 ‘The offering of Christ once made is that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction, for (...)
  • 4 Rev.William Nicholas, “Ritualism!” Being the substance of Two Sermons Preached and now Published (...)

20The positioning of the altar to the east had theological implications, as it underlined the sacrificial dimension of the Eucharist, the priest being the celebrant of a sacrifice offered to God rather than a preacher addressing his congregation. For Anglicans, who believe in the uniqueness and full sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is not a renewed sacrifice, but a commemoration, as stated in ArticleXXXI of the Thirty-Nine Articles,3 hence its celebration on a table, not an east-facing altar. Hence also the numerous attacks on the eastward position in anti-Catholic and anti-ritualist pamphlets of the late 19thcentury, such as that by the Reverend William Nicholas, who wrote that ‘The true reason for the Eastward position is that they [the Ritualists] wish to do reverence to the Sacrifice which they believe is being offered on the Altar, for the East side is the side where the Altar was in the temple, and where the Communion Table is in every church where ritualists have complete control’,4 or by a certain Lady Wimborne who claimed in ‘The Ritualist Conspiracy’(1898) that ‘The error of transubstantiation, with its gross materialism, lies at the root of all the mimicry of the Roman Mass in the celebration of the Eucharist, the reservation of the elements, and in the worship of the altar’(Wimborne17).

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  • 5 ‘Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of the Lord, (...)

21It is worth noting that Lady Wimborne condemns not only ‘the worship of the altar’ but also ‘the reservation of the elements’, i.e. the preservation in the tabernacle of the consecrated bread outside the celebration of the Eucharist—a tabernacle that was usually placed on the altar. In Protestantism, including Anglicanism, the communion bread is not venerated outside Holy Communion, and the Church of England rejects the idea of Eucharistic reserve, as clarified in ArticleXXVIII of the Thirty-Nine Articles, ‘Of the Lord’s Supper,’5 which rejects the Catholic belief in transubstantiation and the worship of the consecrated host and wine, and which accounts for the absence of tabernacles in most Anglican churches. Significantly, many fin-de-siècle texts draw attention to the presence of the tabernacle in churches. In Wilde’s ‘Catholic’ writings, the altar is often associated to references to the tabernacle. The priest in ‘The Fisherman and his Soul’ ‘had opened the tabernacle, and incensed the monstrance that was in it, and shown the fair wafer to the people, and hid it again behind the veil of veils, he began to speak to the people’(258), while the eponymous hero of The Picture of Dorian Gray ‘loved to kneel down on the cold marble pavement, and watch the priest, in his stiff, flowered vestments, slowly and with white hands moving aside the veil of the tabernacle, or raising aloft the jewelled lantern-shaped monstrance with the pallid wafer that at times, one would fain think, is indeed the “panis caelestis, the bread of angels, or, robed in the garments of the Passion of Christ, breaking the Host into the chalice, and smiting his breast for his sins’(101). The tabernacle is associated in those examples with a sense of awe and mystery (symbolised in the correlated image of the veil), which is also conveyed in the aforementioned texts by the dramatic use of light and darkness, in particular through the presence of altar candles—another controversial point in ritualist church interiors.

22Most of the texts quoted in this article represent the church as a dark space: Dowson’s letter evokes ‘the church—rather dark’, Johnson in ‘Our Lady of France’ repeats anaphorically ‘Dark is the church’, and Hobbes’s Jesuit church is described as a ‘dark stone cavernous building’. This enclosing darkness can be understood in various ways, as standing for the archetypal maternal womb, as the materialisation of Mircea Eliade’s regressus at uterum(123), or as a space of initiation or regeneration. It also draws on anti-Catholic clichés that associate Catholicism with darkness, both literally (Catholic churches were often dark) and figuratively, and Protestantism with light—the white-washed walls and clear glass windows of Protestant churches, but also metaphorically the light of acuity of perception, intelligibility and reason. But the effect of this dark setting is also theatrical: the dim atmosphere of the church draws the attention of the characters—and of the reader—to the taper-lit altar, which becomes the focal point of the description. Indeed, fin-de-siècle depictions of church interiors often play dramatically with the chiaroscuro effect produced by the presence of altar lights—a typically Catholic (and ritualist) practice, which was denounced by Evangelical Anglicans. In his pamphlet on the supposedly pagan origins of ritualism, for instance, Leonard explains that in ancient Roman paganism ‘Candles lighted were placed on the altar’(7‒8), and then makes a parallel with the Catholic and ritualist usage of lighting the altar with tapers (his thesis being that Catholic and ritualist churches are just modern transpositions of pagan temples, reflecting the worshippers’ idolatrous religion).

23Several examples of the fin-de-siècle fondness for altar lights can be found in the texts of the period. Ernest Dowson, in the aforementioned poem ‘Benedictio Domini’, describes the altar as ‘Dressed like a bride, illustrious with light’, an image echoed in his story ‘The Diary of a Successful Man’, in which the narrator attends a religious service in a Catholic church in Bruges, hoping to see the countess whom he once loved and who has become a nun. While the service begins with the altar server, ‘taper in hand, ...gradually transforming the gloom of the high altar in a blaze of light’ (Dowson1947, 46), it ends on a return to the initial darkness:

  • 6 Note the reference to the perpetual light of the tabernacle.

When the service was over and the people had streamed out and dispersed, I went back for the last time into the quiet church. A white robed server was extinguishing the last candle on the altar; only the one red light perpetually vigilant before the sanctuary made more visible the shadows everywhere.(48)6

24Similarly, John Oliver Hobbes in The School for Saints focuses on ‘the light on the high altar [that] shone through the mist of incense as something wholly supernatural yet living and sacred’ (Hobbes218), and while the Young King, in Wilde’s story, ‘[kneels] before the image of Christ’, ‘the great candles [burn] brightly by the jewelled shrine’ (Wilde221). One could add to those examples Wilde’s negative dream of an altar, on which no taper burned’ in De Profundis (Wilde1019).

25Such aesthetic tastes in church decoration and liturgical practices were frequently lampooned in the late Victorian period. In his satirical essay ‘The Cultured Faun’, Johnson himself gently mocked the Decadent taste for altar lights: Here comes in a tender patronage of Catholicism: white tapers upon a high altar, an ascetic and beautiful young priest, the great gilt monstrance, the subtle-scented and mystical incenses’ (Johnson1966, 111). In The New Republic, W.H.Mallock’s 1877 satiric novel about Oxford aestheticism, MrRose (a thinly veiled caricature of Walter Pater) is fascinated by the chiaroscuro of ritualist churches, with their darkness and tapers: ‘“I every now and then,” said MrRose, “when I am in the weary mood for it, attend the services of our English Ritualists, and I admire their churches very much indeed. In some places the whole thing is really managed with surprising skill”’ (Mallock273). This declaration is followed by a description of the church: ‘The dim religious twilight, fragrant with the smoke of incense; the tangled roofs that the music seems to cling to; the tapers, the high altar, and the strange intonation of the priests’(273). The tapers, standing out in the dark atmosphere of the church, are here ironically described as props in the elaborate stagecraft of Anglo-Catholic church interiors.

26The light produced by tapers on church altars contributes to creating a highly visual setting, made of dramatic contrasts and light effects. It reflects the taste for sensory—and more specifically visual—intensity which characterises late-Victorian attitudes to the layout and decoration of churches. This emphasis on sight is central to understanding the aesthetic and religious significance of fin-de-siècle church interiors. In the first chapter of Unlocking the Church, aptly entitled ‘Seeing’, William Whyte describes 18th–century churches as ‘machines for listening in’(43) or ‘preaching boxes’(48), spaces where ‘Function even dictated the furnishings, with acoustic effect uppermost’(42). The interior architecture of these pre-Victorian churches drew on a Protestant spirituality based on hearing, which meant that the focus of the church was the pulpit rather than the communion table or altar. But in the first half of the 19thcentury, ‘the old auditory church [was] replaced by a visual church’ (Whyte63). Hence a change in the design and decoration of churches, encouraged by proponents of the Gothic revival, such as the architect A.W.N.Pugin, and by the Cambridge ecclesiologists, who advocated a return to a medieval style of church architecture and furnishings. Hence also the growing popularity in High Church circles of candles, vestments, religious images, embroidery and flowers. Fin-de-siècle literary representations of church interiors reflect this shift from the ‘auditory church’ of the 18thcentury, where function (essentially focused on the proclamation of the word of God) dictated the organisation of space and even the furnishings, to the ‘visual church’, saturated with symbolism, where the eye, rather than the ear, becomes the central organ of religious experience. For Wilde, Johnson, Dowson, Wratislaw or Hobbes, entering a church involves a departure from the sensory landscape of the outside world in order to enter a sacred space designed to address the eye.

27It is worth noting that their visual approach to church interiors turns on its head the conventional Protestant condemnation of the Catholic emphasis on sight, perceived as a sign of the Roman and ritualist obsession with exterior surfaces—a view which is found in much of the anti-Catholic literature of the Victorian period. In an1885 anti-Ritualist pamphlet, a certain J.Spencer Palmer praised a book entitled The Priest in Absolution for revealing the perverse nature of the Catholic sacrament of confession, and denounced what he saw as the obsession of Catholics and Ritualists with the exterior, by which he meant appearances, surfaces, and more generally the visible elements of worship—i.e. the elements of church interiors that most fascinated fin-de-siècle writers:

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We can never be too thankful for the unearthing and exposure of this book [The Priest in Absolution], for it has proved what a sink of iniquity lies under the plausible exterior of many fine services, grand music, gorgeous vestments, &c., in which Ritualism abounds. It is, in fact, the miserable, sickly aestheticism... carried into religion, in its exterior; but the interior... is a seething mass of corruption. (Palmer22, my italics)


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"In popular usage, 'Catholic' usually means 'Roman Catholic'," a usage opposed by some, including some Protestants. "Catholic" usually refers to members of any of the 24 constituent Churches, the one Western and the 23 Eastern.

Does the Catholic Church recognize Protestants? ›

In the spirit of Vatican II, the Catholic Church has embraced a more open approach to Christian unity to both Protestants and Eastern Orthodoxy. Nevertheless, many Americanised remnants of Anglo-American-style denominations of Protestantism remain deeply distrustful of the Catholic Church.

What are the four dogmas of the Catholic Church? ›

The four Marian dogmas of Mother of God, Immaculate Conception, perpetual virginity, and Assumption form the basis of Mariology.

What are the 4 elements of the Catholic Church? ›

The pillars of an authentic Catholic life are summarized in the traditional four pillars of Catholic catechisms: faith, liturgy/sacraments, life in Christ, and prayer, which Peter distills in Acts 2:42.

What are the 4 tenets of Catechism of the Catholic Church? ›

The "four marks of the Church" are that it is one (through union in Christ), holy, catholic (she proclaims the fullness of the faith and is sent out to all peoples in all times), and apostolic (built on the foundation of the Apostles and is governed by Christ).

Is France more Catholic or Protestant? ›

In 2017, the Pew Research Center found in their Global Attitudes Survey that 54.2% of the French regarded themselves as Christians, with 47.4% belonging to the Catholic Church, 3.6% being unaffiliated Christians, 2.2% being Protestants, and 1.0% being Eastern Orthodox.

When was Catholicism outlawed in France? ›

La Constitution Civile du Clergé (The Civil Constitution of the Clergy) was a law passed on July 12, 1790 that resulted in the immediate subordination of the Catholic Church in France to the French government. It proved to be one of the most ill judged, controversial, and disruptive laws of the French Revolution.

Is Germany protestant or Catholic? ›

According to these church stats, Christianity is the largest religious group in Germany, with around 44.9 million adherents (52.7%) in 2021 of whom 21.6 million are Catholics (26.0%) and 19.7 million are Protestants (23.7%).

What is the most famous church that burned down? ›

What happened: A massive blaze at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris devastated large parts of the 850-year-old church. The fire is now out, but the cathedral's iconic spire fell during the hours it took to battle the blaze.

How many Catholic priests were killed during the French Revolution? ›

'' The list of the 99 victims of the French Reign of Terror, that period in which the Revolutionary Tribunal under the Committee of Public Safety executed thousands of suspected antirevolutionaries, included 12 priests and three nuns. It was led by the Rev.

Why do so many Catholic churches feature stained glass windows? ›

Indeed, stained glass windows are utilized in Catholic churches to help bridge the gap between the earthly and the divine. Offering viewers an ethereal experience of color and light, this glass remains beloved even centuries after first installed!

Why do Catholic churches face east? ›

This is why in nearly every place and for almost all of Christian history, the priest has stood with his people on the same side of the altar so that, together facing the East of the sacred liturgy, they could offer the pleasing sacrifice of their lives (cf. Romans 12.1) while pleading the sacrifice of Christ.

What are the five P's of Church? ›

She believes that five P's — people, prayer, provision, partnership, and presence — are key to the sustainability of smaller churches.

What are the 5 faces of the Church? ›

Pastor, Parson, Healer, Prophet, Pilgrim.

What makes catholic church different from other churches? ›

Broadly, Roman Catholicism differs from other Christian churches and denominations in its beliefs about the sacraments, the roles of the Bible and tradition, the importance of the Virgin Mary and the saints, and the papacy.

What is the interior of a church called? ›

The nave is the main part of the church where the congregation (the people who come to worship) sit. The aisles are the sides of the church which may run along the side of the nave. The transept, if there is one, is an area which crosses the nave near the top of the church.

What is the foyer of a catholic church called? ›

This room could be called an inside vestibule (if it is architecturally part of the nave structure) or a porch (if it is a distinct, external structure). Some traditions still call this area the narthex as it represents the point of entry into the church, even if everyone is admitted to the nave itself.

Why do Catholic churches have domes? ›

Over time such domes became primarily focal points for decoration or the direction of prayer. The use of domes in mausolea can likewise reflect royal patronage or be seen as representing the honor and prestige that domes symbolized, rather than having any specific funerary meaning.

Why are Catholic churches designed the way they are? ›

Classicism and Catholicism

Proper churches are built to signify theological realities like the presence of the Christian community, the importance of the Church in civic life, and the presence of the full liturgical assembly: the Trinity, the angels, saints, souls in purgatory, etc.

What is the wall behind the altar called? ›

rere·​dos. ˈrer-ə-ˌdäs, also ˈrir-ə-ˌdäs, ˈrir-ˌdäs. : a usually ornamental wood or stone screen or partition wall behind an altar.

Did Jesus believe in transubstantiation? ›

Christ's proclamation at the Last Supper that the bread and wine were his body and blood must be taken literally, since God is truth. He thus believes that the change of the substances of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ offered in the Eucharist really occurs.

What is the difference between Consubstantiation and transubstantiation? ›

Consubstantiation differs radically from the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, which asserts that the total substance of bread and wine are changed into the substance of the body and blood of Christ at the moment of consecration in such a way that only the appearances of the original elements remain.

Did the church fathers teach transubstantiation? ›

Transubstantiation is the Roman Catholic teaching that in the eucharist, the bread and the cup are transformed into the literal body and blood of Christ. Here are several quotes from the church fathers, often cited by Roman Catholics, in defense of their claim that the early church embraced transubstantiation.

What religion is similar to Catholicism? ›

Interestingly, Catholics see greater similarities between Catholicism and Protestantism than do Protestants. After Protestantism, Catholics see Judaism as most like their faith.

Are Mexicans Roman Catholic? ›

Mexico does not have an official religion. However, Roman Catholicism is the dominant faith and deeply culturally pervasive. It is estimated over 80% of the population identifies as Catholic. Many Mexicans see Catholicism as part of their identity, passed on through the family and nation like cultural heritage.

Why did Catholicism split from Christianity? ›

The Great Schism came about due to a complex mix of religious disagreements and political conflicts. One of the many religious disagreements between the western (Roman) and eastern (Byzantine) branches of the church had to do with whether or not it was acceptable to use unleavened bread for the sacrament of communion.

Why do Protestants not believe in purgatory? ›

The classic Protestant argument against Purgatory, aside from the lack of biblical support, is that Jesus' death eliminated the need for any afterlife redress of sin.

Why do Catholics pray to Mary? ›

Prayer to Mary is a way of being drawn towards Jesus. Just as a Protestant might go to a pastor to say, “pray for me” with the assumption that your pastor will point you to Jesus—so also a Catholic will pray to Mary with the confidence that she will direct us to the Lord Jesus. It is an act of intercession.

Can Protestants take Holy Communion in Catholic Church? ›

(Technical point: in very rare circumstances and only with the Bishop's permission, a Protestant who believes the teachings and requests Communion can receive the Eucharist [ CCC 1401]. Normally the interested Protestant would become Catholic first.)

Does the Catholic Bible say to worship Mary? ›

The phrase "pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death" demonstrates that Catholics view Mary not as a goddess to be worshipped, but as a helpful ally in the life-long struggle against sin and temptation. In all of the Marian prayers offered by Catholics, there is not a single claim of Mary's divinity.

Is the Virgin Mary a dogma? ›

Mary conceived "without any detriment to her virginity, which remained inviolate even after his birth" (Council of the Lateran, 649). Although never explicated in detail, the Catholic Church holds as dogma that Mary was and is Virgin before, in and after Christ's birth.

Does Jesus have a sibling? ›

The brothers of Jesus or the adelphoi (Greek: ἀδελφοί, translit. adelphoí, lit. "of the same womb") are named in the New Testament as James, Joses (a form of Joseph), Simon, and Jude, and unnamed sisters are mentioned in Mark and Matthew.

What are the four last things in Catholicism? ›

The Catholic Church has always reminded her spiritual children to reflect often, even daily, on "The Four Last Things": Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell.

What are the 5 rules of the Catholic Church? ›

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1997) lists five: to attend Mass on Sundays and Feasts of Obligation; to go to confession (see Penance) at least once a year; to receive Communion during the Easter season; to keep holy the Feasts of Obligation; and to observe the days of fasting and abstinence.

What are the six rules of the Catholic Church? ›

According to this writer the Commandments of the Church are: To hear Mass on Sundays and Holy Days; to fast during Lent, on prescribed vigils, and the ember-days; to abstain from meat on Fridays and Saturdays; to go to confession once a year; to receive Holy Communion at Easter; to pay tithes; and finally not to ...

What are the 7 virtues Catechism of the Catholic Church? ›

They are often enumerated as chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility.

What is Catholic catechism 444? ›

Catechism of the Catholic Church - Paragraph # 444. 444 The Gospels report that at two solemn moments, the Baptism and the Transfiguration of Christ, the voice of the Father designates Jesus his "beloved Son". Jesus calls himself the "only Son of God", and by this title affirms his eternal pre-existence.

What are the 7 Catechism of the Catholic Church? ›

1210 Christ instituted the sacraments of the new law. There are seven: Baptism, Confirmation (or Chrismation), the Eucharist, Penance, the Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders and Matrimony.

When was Catholicism rejected in the French Revolution? ›

France's population of 28 million was almost entirely Catholic, with full membership of the state denied to Protestant and Jewish minorities. Being French effectively meant being Catholic. Yet, by 1794, France's churches and religious orders were closed down and religious worship suppressed.

What effect did the French Revolution have on the Catholic Church quizlet? ›

it split the church departments into the 82 stae departments and made the state the payer of their wages as a result of the abolishment of tithes. it also changed the voting system of the clergy by making bishops to be elected in an attempt to remove coruption.

Did the Catholic Church oppose the French Revolution? ›

Clearly, this vote indicated a shift in the Protestant position within the nation by rejecting the privileged position of the Catholic Church. Catholics, however, only definitively turned against the Revolution with the Civil Constitution of the Clergy.

What role did the Catholic Church play in the French colonies? ›

The Catholic Church in New France served as an adjunct of the state. The official assumption was that all inhabitants of the colony were members of the Catholic Church, and faithful Catholics were assumed to be loyal subjects. Huguenots were forbidden to settle in New France, even though a few did.

What happened in France between Catholics and non Catholics? ›

Definition. The French Wars of Religion (1562-1598) were a series of eight conflicts between Protestant and Catholic factions in France lasting 36 years and concluding with the Protestant King Henry IV (r. 1589-1610) converting to Catholicism in the interests of peace.

What relationship did Napoleonic France have with the Catholic Church after 1801? ›

An agreement between Napoleon and Pope Pius VII signed in July 1801 in Paris that remained in effect until 1905. It sought national reconciliation between revolutionaries and Catholics and solidified the Roman Catholic Church as the majority church of France, with most of its civil status restored.

What was the religion in France before Christianity? ›

Pre-Christian Paganism

The Frank people are a group of Germanic migrants who find their mythological and spiritual origins in pre-Christian Germanic Paganism. The Franks invaded the Gallo-Roman land in the 5th century, and became the dominant force in the region of present-day France and Western Germany.

Was Joan of Arc a Catholic? ›

St. Joan of Arc was a Catholic with extreme personal piety. She believed she was guided by the voices of St. Michael, St.

Who was the biggest critic of the Church before the French revolution? ›

Known by his nom de plume M. de Voltaire (/vɒlˈtɛər, voʊl-/; also US: /vɔːl-/; French: [vɔltɛːʁ]), he was famous for his wit, and his criticism of Christianity—especially of the Roman Catholic Church—and of slavery.

Which French Enlightenment philosopher often criticized the Catholic Church? ›

Voltaire was a French Enlightenment writer, historian, and philosopher, who attacked the Catholic Church and advocated freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and separation of church and state.

Why was the French revolution against the Catholic Church? ›

These various factors—the mutual dependency between Church and nobility, the exclusion and persecution of religious minorities, and the monopoly of the Church over various institutions—fueled the intense animosity towards the Catholic Church during the French Revolution (1789) and its aftermath.

Did the French want to spread Catholicism? ›

An Empire Divided: Religion, Republicanism, and the Making of French Colonialism, 1880-1914. Between 1880 and 1914, tens of thousands of men and women left France for distant religious missions, driven by the desire to spread the word of Jesus Christ, combat Satan, and convert the world's pagans to Catholicism.

Why did France send Catholics to New France? ›

Nuns and priests from various religious congregations took their courage in hand and boarded the merchant ships to make the perilous voyage to New France, where they hoped to make Catholic converts among the numerous First Nations that had inhabited North America for thousands of years.

What was the most important goal of the Catholic Church in New France? ›

The most important goal of the Church was to spread the Catholic faith. Missionaries came to the colony to convert First Nations people to the Catholic religion. One of the first groups of missionaries were the Jesuits—members of a religious community known as the Society of Jesus.

How was Church responsible for the French? ›

Especially, the Peasants were forced to pay taxes to the church called Tithes. It included direct tax called Taille and other indirect tax which were imposed on the product of consumption like salt and tobacco. This resulted in worsening the condition of the people and became the reason for the French revolution.


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