St Augustine’s visitor centre will be officially opened today after a two-year, £1.2million project

St Augustine's Photo John Coverdale

The official opening of the new visitor centre at St Augustine’s in Ramsgate will take place today (June 3).

The work is now completed after  a two-year, £1.2 million Heritage Lottery funded restoration. The centre has been partially open since April and will now be completely open.

The ceremony will be led by Archbishop Peter Smith at 5pm with a service of blessing and Vespers.

Bishop Paul Mason, area bishop for Kent, will also attend.

Photo Michael Desbruslais

Local choirs, St Ethelbert’s Primary School, and community groups associated with St Augustine’s will also  take part.

The event marks the start of the re-use of St Augustine’s. Afterwards there will be a celebratory reception in the gardens of the Divine Retreat Centre, across the road from St Augustine’s.

The Heritage Lottery grant was awarded in 2015.

The site, which was the personal church of renowned 19th Century architect Augustus Pugin, now has a new Education, Research, and Visitor Centre created in Pugin’s original schoolroom and library. The aim is to educate and entertain visitors, schools, enthusiasts, and tourists in the twin stories of Augustus Pugin and St Augustine.

Photo Michael Desbruslais

The interior of the church has been substantially restored to its original design, with the addition of new lighting, and other essential services.

The work was carried out with additional funding support from the Friends of St Augustine’s and the Archdiocese of Southwark, the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation, and other generous donors.

John Coverdale, centre manager of St Augustine’s, said: “The new visitor centre and the beautiful restoration of ‘Pugin’s gem’ are great places for the local community, as well as visitors to Ramsgate, to feel part of the history and vision we have here.

“We receive around 10,000 visitors each year, and we hope that the new facilities and the unique look of this site will attract even more people.”

Photo Brian Whitehead

Fr Marcus Holden, Rector of St Augustine’s, said: “This is a great moment for St Augustine’s, with the visit of Cardinal Pell and Archbishop Peter Smith. Archbishop Peter inaugurated this church as the official shrine of St Augustine in 2012, and we are going from strength to strength. This week is a great celebration of St Augustine, the Apostle of the English, who brought the Gospel here 1,420 years ago.”

The full programme is available online here:

Further works

A new altar for St Augustine’s, to be made to the design of the original altar, which was destroyed in 1970, will be built later this year. Funds are still required for this. The consecration of the altar will be advertised at a later date.

The organ at St Augustine’s is currently away being restored, and a new console is being created. Donations to fund this important musical work are sought. The opening recital will be advertised at a later date.

There are still further works of restoration to be completed at the Shrine. These include windows, artwork repairs, and roofs. This stage of bringing St Augustine’s back to life is almost completed, but there are still vital repairs to be undertaken to save St Augustine’s for future generations.

About St Augustine’s

St Augustine’s was built by the renowned architect Augustus Pugin, most famous for his work on the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, in the mid 19th century. A leader of the Gothic Revival, St Augustine’s was the only church he built with his own money, and so unencumbered by the demands of patrons.

Photo Ludmila Griffin

He said that it was the perfect model of his ‘true principles’ and called it “my own child.” Pugin died in 1852, in his house – The Grange – next door, and is buried in the church, beneath an effigy designed by his eldest son.

St Augustine’s is the shrine of St Augustine of England, the first Archbishop of Canterbury. He landed very close to this site, at Ebbsfleet, Thanet, in AD 597.