An old city with lots of wealth and people, has a lot of old churches to visit – so a perambulation around the Churches of Cambridge.

A person could write a book on the churches of Cambridge (and probably have), but here are the ones I stumbled upon while wandering around.

Great St Mary’s

Set in the centre of the city, the church is large, interesting, and notable for one thing – you can climb up the tower.

Like all medieval churches, the tower was never meant to be a tourist attractions, so getting up means a very narrow spiral staircase, with slightly hair-raising moments if people are coming the other way and need to squeeze past. I managed to hit the rush hour on the way up and have nothing to prevent me on the way down.

The bells are visible through a glass window on the way up, and you can press a button to turn on a dim light in the background, or press the help button as I did, as it was more obvious.

Up here, it’s high enough to see a decent view, and as Cambridge is a low-rise city, to see far into the distance. The climb is probably more rewarding than the view though.

The tower is open daily and costs £5 to climb up.

And how much better would photos of Kings College Chapel be if they chopped that tree down!

Not sure if it’s on permanent display, but in a side door is a copy of a Bible printed by Robert Barker in 1612. Robert Barker is noted for missing a word out of a Bible once, and printing the Wicked Bible.

Our Lady of The Assumption and The English Martyrs

In a haven on Protestantism, here’s a Catholic church, and a very very large one at that. Opened in 1890 and now surrounded by noisy roads, inside is very peaceful.

I also through it was closed, as the main doors were locked, but it turns out that entry is by a side door.

Like most Catholic churches, there’s almost always someone praying, and while photos are allowed, they are, understandably, not during services, one of while was soon to start when I turned up.

As a chap was on his knees on the floor right by the seats it was also indelicate to get photos of the church.

Little St Mary’s

A charming little church that’s almost hidden by the old trees that surround it and facing onto an quaint street lined with old houses.

It’s just outside the original town walls and is thought to have been a site of worship since before the Norman conquest. Today its what I might call a typical village church, lots of old memorials on a puritan era white wash walls and plenty of stained glass windows.

A side chapel has a lovely blue star ceiling, and there’s some exceptional carving on the wooden panels at the back of the church.

St Andrew’s Street Baptist Church

A rather interesting exterior with flint inlaid into a stone details, within is totally unexpected – more a barn than a church. The building itself dates from 1836, although there’s been a church on the site since 1689.

The church is today what I call the happy-clappy variety of Christianity, with a pop-music group and video screens – more often associated with the more literal interpretation of the faith, and often tend to be rather uncomfortable with the gays.

I did like the pews though, with umbrella stands at the end of each one.

St Botolph’s Parish Church

Another proper old-school parish church, right in the centre of the city. The door is only half open, which probably deters casual passers by as the church was very quiet when I went in.

The interior is exceptionally austere, as if the Puritans dialed it up to eleven when cleaning this one out – but do check out the ceiling, which looks as if under the dirt could be quite stunning.

The current building, with additions dates from the 14th century, and although it was whitewashed by the puritans, in fact the white effect today is relatively modern as it got the full blown Victorian gothic treatment in the 19th century, which was later at some point then covered over again.

Over the altar, the ceiling is decorated, and you’ll see this a lot in churches where the decorative section of ceiling represents the old canvas canopies that used to be over altars.

St Clement’s Cambridge

St Clement’s is one of the oldest churches in Cambridge and was built in the first half of the 13th century, with the usual additions and refurbishments. It’s undergoing work at the moment, to add a small lift and other details, so a visit at the moment is to walk into a building site.

There is however a stunning altar and beam that references the stations of the cross in its Latin inscription.

St Giles with St Peter

Built in 1875 this very large and impressive church replaced a much older building that had stood on the site since medieval times.

Fortunately, the original reredos survive next to the Altar, and the rest was decorated in the gothic style favoured by the Oxford Revivial (ironic for Cambridge!).

As a church though it felt oddly cold and unwelcoming, maybe needing a decent dose of incense and to shade the windows a bit, as the main window let in a giant floodlit into the space. Maybe it looks more exciting on a gloomy day.

 

The Round Church

One of the famous churches in the town centre, and the only one to charge an entry fee to look around inside, which was a bit irksome as it’s also the smallest church in Cambridge.

It’s also one of only four surviving medieval round churches in England (Temple Church, London; Little Maplestead Essex; St Sepulchre’s Northampton), and was modeled on the church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem.

It used to be entirely round, but over the centuries additions at the back for more space mean the original round church is now more of a waiting space to go into the church proper behind.

At one time a gothic style castle turret was added on top, but that was replaced by the current conical roof in the style of the original when the turret turned out to be too heavy.

Inside, the round church is exceptional with an upper walkway giving the illusion of a lot more space than there really is, and the medieval tiles are a delight.

As the church is now used by a Christian outreach group, there were more signs about their missionary work than about the church, although if more pews looked like their meeting space, I am sure churches would be better attended on Sundays.

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5 comments on “The churches of Cambridge
  1. Colin says:

    This is a good list. For those interested in churches, I would also recommended two just off the Market Square: St Bene’t’s with its Anglo-Saxon tower, and St Edward King and Martyr, site of the first openly Protestant sermons of the English Reformation. And slightly further, All Saints’ has some notable Arts and Crafts decoration, but is not always open.

    But don’t you dare think about chopping down the grand old horse chestnut outside King’s!

  2. George Wilson says:

    “often tend to be rather uncomfortable with the gays” – The gays….. Really offended by how casually this statement was thrown in. How about “the gay community”? I’m sure if it had stated “the blacks” there would have been even more outrage. Disgusting terminology in 2019!!!

    • ianvisits says:

      As a gay man myself, I can’t see the problem with the phrase, being one that I hear many gay people using a lot.

  3. Nigel says:

    This is a good list. I would also recommend Saint Peter’s church in Castle Street. It is the smallest church in town and, dating from the 11th century, one of oldest.

  4. Rachel says:

    I haven’t been inside seveal of these despite having lived in and around Cb for 40 years. Another church, redundant now and in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust, is All Saints Church in Jesus Lane. It is decorated in the Arts & Craft style and maybe unique of its kind. Open during the week in term time I think

    https://www.visitchurches.org.uk/visit/church-listing/all-saints-cambridge.html

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