Skip to main content
Kent Academic Repository

The idea of the sacred in neoclassical British gardens of the eighteenth and late twentieth centuries

Charlesworth, Michael (1990) The idea of the sacred in neoclassical British gardens of the eighteenth and late twentieth centuries. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.86015) (KAR id:86015)


This study takes as its subject the sacred element in neo-classical gardens of the 18th and late 20th centuries. This element may be represented in the classical idiom (by temples or statues), or translated into the terms of the Christian religion as practised in England. The study argues that sacred ideas are an important motivating force in garden design, and moreover have a prominent socio-political content. It demonstrates this force at work by focussing first on the devotional aspects of Alexander Pope's garden, which, it is argued, displays an ecclesiastical ichnography informed by Roman Catholic values. In the middle of the 18th century, by contrast, political and cultural hostility to Roman Catholicism finds expression in the design of the landscape garden. During the second half of the century the constitutionally assured supremacy of the Church of England is also reflected in landscape garden design. Duncombe Park with Rievaulx Terrace, and Sledmere House, provide examples of these changes. Sacred neo-classical gardening emerges from 19th century eclipse to find its fullest contemporary expression in the work of Ian Hamilton Finlay, whose garden in Scotland is tested here for consistency to the 18th century tradition he often invokes. His work also provides the material for a modern definition of the sacred idea. While it is still connected to political ideas, the sacred is now divorced from involvement with the Christian Churches and allied to imaginative and poetic effects of gardens and landscape. Throughout the study evidence from literature, painting and architectural history is brought to bear on the subject, and it is argued that the connection between signs of the sacred in the garden and actual sacred practices in society is essentially a rhetorical one.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.86015
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 09 February 2021 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Uncontrolled keywords: Religious themes, gardens
Subjects: A General Works > AZ History of Scholarship. The Humanities
C Auxiliary Sciences of History > CB History of civilization
D History General and Old World > D History (General)
L Education > LA History of education
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BL Religion
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of History
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 29 Oct 2019 16:25 UTC
Last Modified: 14 Feb 2022 12:20 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

  • Depositors only (login required):

Total unique views for this document in KAR since July 2020. For more details click on the image.