A Glimpse of Heaven

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Great Catholic Churches of England and Wales: THE DVD

When Christopher Martin’s survey of Catholic churches in England and Wales “A Glimpse of Heaven” was published by English Heritage in 2006 the book was hailed in the press as a “revelation”.

Now the author, himself an established film-maker, has made a DVD which tells the remarkable story of how the great resurgence of Catholic faith after centuries of repression (which only ended in the late 18th century) led to an explosion in church building. Until quite recently this wonderful legacy of fine buildings was little known and underappreciated. Today the threat of church closures across England and Wales poses new dangers to some of these historic buildings and makes this key DVD essential viewing in raising public awareness of this important part of our national heritage.

This DVD features the photography of Alex Ramsay (who illustrated the book) as well as filmed sequences of churches and places that together demonstrate that many historic Catholic churches are masterpieces. Catholics built astonishing churches in the 18th century as well as in the Victorian era, and that much later, in the 20th century, no denomination grasped with more enthusiasm the architectural opportunities offered by the modern age than Catholic priests, congregations and architects. The churches they built are not only fascinating as architecture but tell us about the politics, history and drama of their times.

Taking part are architectural journalists Marcus Binney, Mark Girouard and Gavin Stamp, architects Quinlan Terry and Austin Winkley, conservationist Sophie Andreae, churchmen like Geoffrey Scott, Abbot of Douai, and Thomas McMahon, Bishop of Brentwood. Lord Camoys speaks of the crucial role of the Catholic aristocracy in keeping the Catholic faith alive in England and Wales through all the years of persecution and repression.

Among the buildings featured are the astonishingly Byzantine Westminster Cathedral, the controversially Modernist cathedrals at Liverpool and Clifton and, most recently, the equally controversial Classical revival cathedral at Brentwood in Essex.

The parish churches range from the Italian magnificence of St Peter’s Clerkenwell to the sumptuous Gothic Jesuit church in Mayfair to the simplicity of a village church in Cumbria. The extraordinary revival of faith in the early 19th century is represented by churches in Liverpool, Manchester and the Catholic north – Preston, Macclesfield and Clifford. There are the achievements of AWN Pugin in Ramsgate, Cheadle and Birmingham. No less remarkable and confident are the churches built in the 20th century at Wallasey, Bootle, Kite’s Green (Birmingham), Woodthorpe (Nottingham), Newbridge (Gwent) and Gorleston (Norfolk).

All these – as well as the Benedictine abbeys at Worth, Downside and Douai – testify to the growth in Catholic numbers and confidence as the years of Post-Reformation repression faded in the memory.

For over two hundred years, from the time of Queen Elizabeth I to the 1790s, Catholic worship and the building of Catholic churches had been illegal. Catholics were tortured and executed. They faced mob violence. Many of the churches that were built in the happier times that followed were splendid. The best were magnificent. All strove to give the Catholic aristocrat, as well as the Catholic working man and his family, “a glimpse of heaven.”


The two-disc 110-minute DVD was made by CM Productions with the assistance and support of the Patrimony Committee of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, received a copy of the print version of a ‘Glimpse of Heaven’ from the British Ambassador to the Holy See, Fr Michael Lang.

Copies available at £12.99 (including p&p)

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ISBN 978 085244 677 3 £12.99