27 April 2020
A ‘virtual tour’ of more
than a dozen college
chapels in Cambridge
In my present state of semi-cocooning, due to the present Covid-19 pandemic restrictions and my pulmonary sarcoidosis, I have been offering a number of ‘virtual tours’ in recent weeks, including a dozen Wren churches and ten former Wren churches in London, a dozen churches, pubs and former pubs in Lichfield, a dozen churches and restaurants in Rethymnon, a dozen churches in other parts of Crete, a dozen monasteries in Crete and on Mount Athos, a dozen historic sites in Athens and in Thessaloniki, and a dozen churches and a dozen Jewish sites in Thessaloniki.
The way travel restrictions are being extended and my travel plans are being cancelled one after another, this may yet be the first year in many that I have not visited Cambridge. So, this evening I am offering another ‘virtual tour’ – a ‘virtual tour’ of more than a dozen college chapels in Cambridge.
For many years, I was a student at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, during the courses offered by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies. I and stayed in rooms in Sidney Sussex all those years, and we used the chapel for prayers twice a day.
But, in the past I have also been invited to preach in the chapel in Sidney Sussex College and to deliver a ‘lecture sermon’ in Christ’s College Cambridge. As well as staying in Sidney Sussex over the years, I have also stayed at weekends in both Christ’s College and Clare College.
So, this evening’s ‘virtual tour’ is just a sample of the college chapels I have got to know in Cambridge over these years.
1, Sidney Sussex College:
Sidney Sussex College stands on the older, mediaeval site of Greyfriars, the Franciscan house in Cambridge. Franciscans here included Duns Scotus (1266-1308), one of the most important theologians and philosophers of the High Middle Ages, although arguments continue over whether he was born in Duns in Berwickshire or in Ireland.
Sidney Sussex began a religious foundation, and so the chapel is at the heart of the college. But this chapel is unusual due to its north/south, rather than east/west orientation, because of the Puritan design stipulated by Lady Frances Sidney, Countess of Sussex.
The original intention in the 16th century was to use the friars’ former refectory and kitchens as the college chapel. The refectory was adapted by dividing it into two floors, with the chapel and antechapel on the lower floor and the library on the upper floor.
But, at first, little money was spent on furnishing and completing the chapel, and the floor remained unpaved until 1612.
James Essex entirely remodelled the Chapel Court East Range in 1776 and the present chapel dates from 1780, when the last buildings of Grey Friars on the site were torn down. This work was completed in the Gothic style by Sir Jeffry Wyatville in 1833, when William Chafy, Master, ‘repaired and beautified’ the chapel at his own expense. Sir Nikolaus Pevsner was unkind when he wrote: ‘There is no getting away from the fact that Sidney Sussex is architecturally the least attractive of the old colleges of the universities.’
In the early 20th century, a High Church group among the Fellows was instrumental in rebuilding and enlarging the chapel, which was provided with a richly carved interior in late 17th-century style, designed by Thomas Henry Lyon (1870-1953), and at odds with the college’s original Puritan ethos.
The shell of Essex’s building was preserved, but the length was more than doubled by the addition of an extension towards the south with a memorial chapel on its west side adjoining the sanctuary. The walls are panelled in oak to the cornice, which is also of oak, and the floor is of marble in various colours; the work was finished in 1923.
The chapel has a remarkable Catholic altarpiece, ‘The Holy Family,’ by the Venetian painter Giovanni Pittoni, which was bought in 1783 for 20 guineas. In transforming the sanctuary of Cromwell’s college into an Anglo-Catholic chapel, the Edwardian high churchmen inscribed above Pittoni’s altarpiece, in large, capital, gilt letters the Latin phrase Gvstando Vivimvs Deo, ‘by tasting we live in God,’ from the seventh century Latin hymn for Easter Vespers, ‘The Lamb’s high banquet we await.’
More recent additions to the chapel include the panels of stained glass fragments that have been inserted into the antechapel window. These fragments were unearthed during the archaeological investigations in 1958 and appear to come from the mediaeval windows of the former Franciscan church.
Sixty years ago, Dr Horace NS Wilkinson, an anaesthetist, donated a cranium to Sidney Sussex in 1960, claiming it was Cromwell’s head. The head was buried in the grounds of Sidney Sussex College on 25 March 1960, but the college keeps the precise location of this burial a secret. A plaque in the antechapel states simply: ‘Near to this place was buried on 25 March 1960 the head of Oliver Cromwell Lord Protector of the Common-wealth of England, Scotland & Ireland, Fellow Commoner of this College 1616-7.’
2, Christ’s College:
I preached in the Chapel in Christ’s College back in 2009. The original college buildings from the 15th and 16th centuries now forming part of First Court include the Chapel, the Master’s Lodge and the Great Gate tower.
Christ’s College was originally established in 1437 by William Byngham, who called his new college God’s House. The college moved to its present location in 1448 after Henry VI decided that he needed the original site for his new King's College. Lady Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry VII and grandmother of Henry VIII, who refounded the college in the early 16th century.
In 1505, God’s House was re-dedicated as Christ’s College under the patronage of Lady Margaret Beaufort. The Chapel of Christ’s College was consecrated in 1510 by the then Bishop of Ely, James Stanley, a stepson of Lady Margaret Beaufort. A pious woman, it is said that even before the chapel was consecrated she heard Mass from a gallery now represented by a window in the south wall of the chapel, although the chapel was not formally consecrated until a year after her death.
3, Clare College:
The Chapel in Clare College was built in the 1760s to a design by the amateur architect and Master of Caius, James Burrough. The Chapel is at the heart of the college in Old Court, with a daily Eucharist each morning during Full Term, and Choral Evensong sung by the College Choir.
According to instructions left by the college founder, Lady Elizabeth de Clare, the chapel, as with the whole college, is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The painting above the altar is ‘The Annunciation’ by Giambattista Cipriani, and was commissioned for the chapel by the Duke of Newcastle in the 18th century.
In the early 20th century, two stained glass windows were installed at the West End of the Chapel. The window on the south commemorates Richard de Badew, sometime Chancellor of Cambridge University and the original founder of the college, which was later re-established, renamed and endowed by Lady Elizabeth de Clare. He is shown offering his foundation, then known as University Hall, to the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child.
Below them is a map of Europe, with Ireland and Britain comfortably close to the European continental landmass, long before anyone thought of ‘Brexit.’ The window opposite on the north side of the chapel commemorates two of the college’s most distinguished alumni: Bishop Hugh Latimer, a martyr in the reign of Queen Mary Tudor; and Nicholas Ferrar, founder of the community at Little Gidding just before the English Civil War in the 17th century. To the left is a small image of the church built by Nicholas Ferrar and referred to by TS Eliot in his poem ‘Little Gidding.’
The antechapel has memorials to the members of Clare College who died in the two World Wars, including Hamo Sassoon, brother of the war poet Siegfried Sassoon. Past deans of Clare College include Archbishop Rowan Williams (1984-1986); the theologian and New Testament scholar, Bishop John AT Robinson (1951-1959); the New Testament scholar, CFD (‘Charlie’) Moule (1944-1951); Maurice Frank Wiles (1959-1967); and Bishop Mark Santer (1967-1972).
4, Corpus Christi College:
Corpus Christi College, formally known as the College of Corpus Christi and the Blessed Virgin Mary, is the only Cambridge college founded by the townspeople of Cambridge: it was founded in 1352 by the Guilds of Corpus Christi and the Blessed Virgin Mary.
At first, the college had no chapel, and used Saint Bene’t’s Church next door for worship and liturgies until the beginning of the 16th century. At one time during the Reformation, the college was also known as Saint Bene’t’s … perhaps a conscious effort to break with the traditions associated with Corpus Christi.
The first college chapel was built by Thomas Cosyn, who was Master from 1487 to 1515. The old chapel was demolished to make way for New Court, including the Parker Library, which were designed by William Wilkins and completed in 1827. The Parker Library is named after Archbishop Matthew Parker (1504-1575), who was the Master of Corpus Christi 1544 to 1553, before becoming Archbishop of Canterbury (1559-1575).
The chapel now in New Court is part of the 19th century rebuilding of Corpus Christi. It is the third chapel in the college, and was built as a replica of the chapel in nearby King’s College.
Today, Corpus Christi is best known to visitors to Cambridge for its clock, the Chronophage or ‘Time Eater,’ which is accurate only once every five minutes.
5, Downing College:
Downing College is unusual among Cambridge Colleges, for it has no courts. It was designed in the classical style by William Wilkins, because George III disapproved of the Gothic style.
The architect William Wilkins was commissioned by the trustees of the Downing estate, who included the Master of Clare College and Saint John’s College and the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, to design the plan for the college. Wilkins, a disciple of the neo-classical architectural style, designed the first wholly campus-based college plan in the world based on the entrance on Downing Street and reaching back to form the largest quadrangle in Cambridge, extending to Lensfield Road.
However, this was not to be. The third side of the square was only completed in 1951 with the building of the college chapel. Where the fourth side would have been is now a large paddock (known simply as ‘The Paddock’), with many trees.
6, Emmanuel College:
Emmanuel College was founded in 1584 by Sir Walter Mildmay, Chancellor of the Exchequer to Elizabeth I, on the site of by the Dominican Friary dissolved 45 years earlier. Mildmay was a Puritan and intended Emmanuel to be a college to train Puritan preachers.
Under his instructions, the chapel of the original Dominican Friary was converted into the college dining hall, while the friars’ dining hall was turned into a Puritan chapel.
The original Puritan character of the college gave way to the liberal views of the Cambridge Platonists and the high churchmanship of William Sancroft, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was instrumental in bringing Christopher Wren to design the new college chapel in 1677. This is one of three buildings in Cambridge designed by Wren.
The former Puritan chapel then became the college library. During the 19th century, Emmanuel, like other Cambridge colleges, expanded in numbers and disciplines, becoming once again a notable centre of theology, and for the first time the home of serious teaching in the natural sciences. Eventually, the old library outgrew its space and a purpose-built library was built in 1930.
7, Fitzwilliam College:
Fitzwilliam College dates from 1869, but is one of the newer colleges among the 31 Cambridge colleges. The college chapel was built onto the north wing of New Court in 1991, and was designed by MacCormac Jamieson Prichard.
It faces directly towards the Grove and is in the International style.
The chapel is designed to resemble the hull of a ship, hinting at the religious themes of journey and protection. It won the 1992 Civic Trust Award, the 1993 Carpenters’ Award and the 1993 David Urwin Award for Best New Building.
The firm later used a similar design for the Ruskin Library at the University of Lancaster.
8, Gonville and Caius College:
If Fitzwilliam has the newest college chapel in Cambridge, then the chapel in Gonville and Caius College claims to be the oldest purpose-built college chapel in Cambridge that is still in use. The core of its walls dates from ca 1390 and every century since has contributed something to the building.
Gonville Hall was founded in 1348 and dedicated to the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary by Edmund Gonville. A permanent licence to celebrate the Divine Offices was granted by Pope Boniface IX in 1393, when the chapel was first completed. The college was re-founded as Gonville and Caius College In 1557-1558 by Dr John Caius with by a charter from Philip and Mary.
The original chapel was extended in 1637, and a fund was opened in 1716 for its repair and improvement. The stone facing on the exterior walls dates from this period and from 1870, when the east end was substantially rebuilt in Byzantine style and the whole building was extensively refurbished by Alfred Waterhouse. The Byzantine style of the apse contrasts with the rest of the chapel.
The organ gallery was once the Master’s private oratory. The admission of a Master or of Fellows or Scholars always takes place in the Chapel.
9, Jesus College:
If the chapel in Caius claims to date from 1393, the Chapel in Jesus College can claim to date back to in 1157 and it was completed in 1245, as was part of the Benedictine Convent of Saint Mary and Saint Radegund. It is believed to be the oldest university building in Cambridge still in use.
When Jesus College took over the precincts in the 15th century, the parish was renamed after the college as Jesus Parish, later absorbed into All Saints’ Parish.
The chapel has a memorial to Thomas Cranmer, and much of the 19th century restoration was the work of AWN Pugin, whose influence can be seen in the Tower, the painting of the ceilings, and the misericords.
10, King’s College:
King’s College Chapel is a significant tourist site and a well-known symbol of Cambridge. This is one of the finest examples of late Perpendicular Gothic English architecture, and chapel was built in phases by a succession of English kings from 1446 to 1515, and the first stone of the chapel was laid by Henry VI on the Feast of Saint James the Apostle, 25 July 1446.
The chapel has the world’s largest fan vault, built between 1512 and 1515. During World War II most of the stained glass was removed and the chapel again escaped damage.
Other features in the chapel include ‘The Adoration of the Magi’ by Rubens, installed in the chapel in 1968: but this involved lowering the sanctuary floor leading up to the High Altar.
The chapel is also known for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols on the BBC on Christmas Eve. From 1982 until shortly before his death on 22 November 2019, the director of music for the choir was Sir Stephen Cleobury.
The chapel in Peterhouse sits at the centre of the oldest part of college. The chapel stands in the centre of the east-facing street-front of the college, unlike most college chapels, which are incorporated in the north or south ranges of the main court.
The chapel was built and furnished by successive college masters of the college, including Matthew Wren and John Cosin, and was consecrated in 1633. Both were supporters of Archbishop William Laud and his ‘Beauty of Holiness’ movement and the chapel was intended to be an exemplar of Laudian best practice. The identity of the architect is still debated.
The chapel and its style of worship drew the attention of the Parliamentary iconoclast William Dowsing, who made it the first place he visited on his inspection of Cambridge in 1643. He took down the statues of the four evangelists and Saint Peter from the external niches and, inside, the winged cherub-heads which were in each of the panels in the ceiling, surrounded by a Glory.
The fellows of the college had already removed and hidden the magnificent east window, a representation of ‘Le Coup de Lance’ by Rubens, and they re-installed it after the Restoration.
12, Saint John’s College:
The Chapel of Saint John’s College is entered by the north-west corner of First Court, and was built in 1866-1869 to replace a smaller, mediaeval chapel dating from the 13th century. The architect was Sir George Gilbert Scott, whose design was inspired by the Church of Saint Chapelle in Paris.
The benefactor Henry Hoare offered a down-payment of £3,000 to finance the building, and promised to pay £1,000 a year if a tower were added to Scott’s original plans. However, Hoare’s death left the college £3,000 short of his expected benefaction, and when the tower was completed it was left without bells.
There are statues of Lady Margaret Beaufort and Cardinal John Fisher, misericords and panelling from 1516, and some 15th century glass, although most of the glass was cast by Clayton and Bell, Hardman, and Wailes around 1869.
13, Trinity College:
Trinity College Chapel dates from the mid 16th century. The chapel was begun in 1554-1555 by order of Queen Mary and was completed in 1567 by Elizabeth I.
The architectural style is Tudor-Gothic, with Perpendicular tracery and pinnacles. The roof is of an earlier style than the rest of the building, and may have been re-used from the chapel of King’s Hall, the college that preceded Trinity on this site.
The chapel has memorials to the Cambridge Triumvirate – Brooke Foss Westcott, Joseph Barber Lightfoot and Fenton Hort – and to Isaac Newton, Bishop John Robinson, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Charles Villiers Stanford, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Bertrand Russell, Thomas Babington Macaulay and AE Housman.
14, Two theological college chapels:
Cambridge also has two Anglican theological colleges, Westcott House and Ridley Hall. They are not constituent colleges of the University of Cambridge, but they have close ties with the Faculty of Divinity, and some students who are also in a constituent college of the university can be awarded university degrees and diplomas.
Westcott House and Ridley Hall form part of the Cambridge Theological Federation, along with Westminster College, the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, and other similar institutes.
Westcott House on Jesus Lane was founded in 1881 as the Cambridge Clergy Training School. Brooke Foss Westcott, then Regius Professor of Divinity, was its first president. He later became the Bishop of Durham.
The chapel and the other buildings at Westcott House, designed by Morley Horder, almost appear like a cloister for neighbouring All Saints’ Church. I stayed here once, and have attended the Community Eucharist here and a number of seminars here, including one addressed by Archbishop Rowan Williams.
Ridley Hall is one of four Church of England theological colleges that identify as ‘Open Evangelical,’ along with Saint John’s College, Nottingham, Trinity College, Bristol, and Cranmer Hall, Durham.
Ridley Hall Chapel was built in 1891-1892 to designs by William Wallace, and dedicated in 1892. The chapel reredos by Albert E Richardson.
The chapel windows commemorate the teachers of the Early and Mediaeval Church (north side), the Reformers (south side), 18th and 19th-century Anglican mission workers (west end, gallery) and the East Window depicts the ‘Road to Emmaus.’
I have visited other college chapels, such as Pembroke College, but have lost the files with their photographs over the years, or have found their quality too poor, such as my photograph Queens’ College Chapel in the snow.