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The church of St Gregory the Great, Downside, England. Credit Downside Abbey The church of St Gregory the Great, Downside, England. Credit Downside Abbey 

When faith and beauty combine

A new book looks at the aesthetic beauty of many of England and Wales’ Catholic churches which provide a sanctuary for prayer and worship.

By Lydia O’Kane

Many people have things they want to tick off their “to do” list in life. For some, that can be visiting new countries or pilgrimage sites.

For others, their favourite pastime while on holiday is checking out a tour guide for the most famous churches and basilicas.

With that in mind, Journalist Elena Curti has traveled the length and breadth of England and Wales to choose her favourite places of worship. She has compiled these Catholic churches in a new book entitled Fifty Catholic Churches to See Before You Die.

Contained in the publication are Gothic Revival churches, neo-Classical, Byzantine, English Arts-and-Crafts and Modernist, as well as a few built prior to the Reformation.

Many of these churches may not be known to anyone apart from their own parish communities, but they all have one thing in common - they are sanctuaries of prayer and contemplation.

Putting Catholic Churches on the map

Speaking to Vatican News, Ms. Curti said she was inspired to write the book after noting there was very little material available out there on Catholic Churches. What’s more, she pointed out, they seemed to get very few visitors.

“My purpose is to put Catholic Churches on the map. It’s been such a neglected area up until now. I think a lot of people in England and Wales feel they’re not welcome in Catholic Churches. They’ll think nothing of visiting a picturesque English village and naturally just pop into the Church of England Church, but it doesn’t occur to them to go into a Catholic Church.”

She also noted that the beauty that is found in these churches can be a real aid to “prayer and contemplation.”

Listen to the interview

Conservation

A number of churches listed in the book are Grade I listed buildings that require constant upkeep which can be a major expense.

On this point, Ms. Curti said the money needed for conservation was “far beyond the capabilities of a lot of the congregations because, if you can imagine, quite a few of these churches are in very poor areas, and they struggle to maintain them and until fairly recently they were getting very little support from the government.”

In England and Wales today there are around 3,000 Catholic Churches; each with its own unique community, story and beauty. Ms. Curti acknowledged that it was “very very difficult narrow down the churches to fifty.”

With these featured churches, the journalist said she was able to trace the story of the history of Catholicism from the Reformation onwards and give a sample of all that is best in Catholic Church architecture in England and Wales.

19 October 2020, 14:52