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Gothic AntiquityHistory, Romance, and the Architectural Imagination, 1760-1840$
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Dale Townshend

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780198845669

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198845669.001.0001

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‘Venerable Ruin’ or ‘Nurseries of Superstition’

‘Venerable Ruin’ or ‘Nurseries of Superstition’

Ecclesiastical Architecture and the Gothic Literary Aesthetic

Chapter:
(p.221) 5 ‘Venerable Ruin’ or ‘Nurseries of Superstition’
Source:
Gothic Antiquity
Author(s):

Dale Townshend

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/oso/9780198845669.003.0005

Ranging across antiquarian studies, executed architectural projects, romances, letters, essays, and topographical writing, this chapter seeks to show how the Gothic fictional aesthetic, in both its pro-Catholic and anti-Catholic extremes, was merely one manifestation of the broader discourse on ecclesiastical Gothic architecture and architectural ruin in the long eighteenth century. While, for many antiquaries, ecclesiastical ruins were ‘venerable’ and deserving of respect, for other, more popular writers they were ‘nurseries of superstition’, painful remainders (and reminders) of England’s Catholic past. Having explored the ceaseless vacillation between the poles of ‘venerable ruin’ and ‘nurseries of superstition’ across a range of architectural theorists, essayists, and Gothic writers of the period, the argument shows how Gothic architecture, particularly the architecture of ecclesiastical ruin, prompted imaginative reconstructions of the nation’s Gothic past, an age not only characterized by Catholic ‘darkness’ and ‘superstition’, but one also felicitously inhabited by ‘enlightened’ English Catholics.

Keywords:   Ruined abbeys, anti-Catholicism, superstition, John Wyclif, Alexander Pope, Catholicism, Gothic Revival, Fonthill Abbey, John Milner, antiquarianism

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