19th Century Gothic in the British Colonies of the Asia Pacific

Paola Colleoni

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference paperpeer-review


In the nineteenth century, the promotion of Christian values became part of British imperial policy and Gothic spires started to appear in the skyline of settlements scattered all around the empire. In the colonies, clergymen of all Christian denominations resolved to build churches recalling the ancient structures of the Middle Ages not only as a matter of fashion, but because the choice of one style over the other signified a belief in a definite body of ideas. The Church of England consistently used the Gothic Revival as a marker of English civilisation, while Roman Catholics held medieval Gothic in high regards given the leading role that the pioneering architect and Catholic convert A. W. N. Pugin had played in its modern revival. As a matter of fact, Catholic authorities never universally recognise the Gothic as the only true Christian style, but, despite this, in the colonies of the British Empire, Catholic bishops erected monumental churches inspired to their European medieval counterparts to rival the architecture created by Anglicans. Among the most spectacular results of this phenomenon in the Asia Pacific region are the cathedrals built in Hong Kong, Yangon, Melbourne and Sydney, where Catholics drew on medieval sources to challenge the Church of England's association between Gothic and Anglicanism. The paper provides an account of the architectural staging and spatial implications of the expansion of Catholicity in the nineteenth century. By exploring the reasons that underlay the exploitation of medieval forms for monumental architecture, it argues that the forceful presence exuding from Gothic forms served multiple purposes. For the Catholics these included the marking of a changed social and economic status and the gain of political and clerical authority within the British colonies of the Asia Pacific region.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 20 Sept 2023
EventSociety of Architectural Historians 2023 76th Annual International Conference - Virtual
Duration: 20 Sept 202322 Sept 2023


ConferenceSociety of Architectural Historians 2023 76th Annual International Conference
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