13 August 2021

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
76, Jesus College, Cambridge

The Chapel in Jesus College is said to be the oldest university building in Cambridge still in use (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Before the day gets busy, I am taking a little time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading. During this time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

My theme this week is seven college chapels in Cambridge, and my photographs this morning (13 August 2021) are from Jesus College.

The cloisters beside the Chapel of Jesus College, Cambridge, survive from Benedictine convent of Saint Radegund (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Chapel in Jesus College is the oldest college chapel in Cambridge. It is unique in that it was not originally designed as a college chapel: it predates the foundation of the college by three and a half centuries, and the university by more than half a century.

The chapel dates from 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.

Jesus College was established in 1496, and the full name of the college is the College of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint John the Evangelist and the glorious Virgin Saint Radegund, near Cambridge.

When Jesus College took over the convent and its precincts in the 15th century, the parish was renamed after the college as Jesus Parish, later absorbed into All Saints’ Parish.

The chapel was originally a large Norman church dedicated to Saint Mary and served the 12th century Benedictine convent of Saint Radegund. This explains why the chapel, like that of the cloisters that surround it, has a conventual rather than a collegiate character. It also served as the church of the parish of Saint Radegund which grew up around the convent, which was at that time a semi-rural area just outside Cambridge.

The church took about a century to build. Building began ca 1157 and was completed ca 1245. It was of cathedrals dimensions and proportions and became the largest church in Cambridge. It was in the shape of a cross, with a high pitched roof, and surmounted by a belfry or steeple that was visible for miles.

The belfry collapsed at different times, devastating fires destroyed much of the surrounding convent and eventually the church itself fell into disrepair because of the convent’s poverty.

The convent of Saint Radegund was dissolved in 1496 by John Alcock, Bishop of Ely, and a new college was founded in its place. The conventual church of Saint Mary was rededicated to the name of Jesus, part of the church was demolished and the remaining portion was drastically modified.

Alcock designed many of the alterations to create a chapel for his new college, and the rebuilding took considerable time, continuing long after his death. Two-thirds of what had been the nave of the church were replaced by college rooms, which later became part of the eastern wing of the Master’s Lodge, and the chapels on the north and south sides of the choir were pulled down and the northern aisles became part of the cloister.

For a time after Saint Mary’s Church became the chapel of Jesus College, it continued to serve as the church of the parish, and was used for baptisms and marriages, which Jesus Churchyard was used for burials.

Part of the churchyard later formed the Master’s Garden, parts later became known as Fair Close, and later the rest of the old churchyard became the fellows’ garden and the orchard.

In the early 17th century, the college was known as a stronghold of the High Church party in the university and sympathetic to the views of the Caroline Divines, and the chapel services were renowned for ‘good music, elaborate solemnity and attractive decency.’ During the English Civil War, the Master, Richard Sterne, and the former Master, William Beale, were arrested by Cromwell in the course of a service in the chapel and taken to the Tower of London, the chapel organ was taken to pieces and the remaining college plate was buried in the orchard.

At the Restoration, the interior of the chapel was repaired and restored to its former beauty, the organ was rebuilt and reinstated, the chapel was paved with black and white marble and a gallery was built in the chancel.

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.

Inspired by the new spirit of the Gothic revival, major new restoration work was carried out in the chapel in 1846-1849. The aim was to restore the ritual as well as the architecture of the chapel, and to restore the musical traditional of the chapel services with a new organ and the reinstatement of the choir.

The tower was strengthened with repairs carried out on the advice of AWNPugin, who was a close friend of John Sutton, a college fellow who was deeply involved in the restoration of the chapel.

Pugin had come down to Cambridge to take the measurements for the organ chamber and on Sutton’s recommendation the college also employed Pugin to direct the continuing programme of the restoration of the chapel.

In the north transept, Norman windows embedded in the north wall were rediscovered. They were preserved as recessed arches and the whole wall was restored. New stalls and a new pavement were also supplied for the chancel. Pugin removed both 18th century plaster ceiling and Alcock’s low-pitched roof which he replaced by a high-pitched roof, in a 13th century style.

Pugin also rebuilt the choir stalls and the east wall and removed Alcock’s Perpendicular east window, replacing it with three tall lancet windows – archaeological evidence had shown that that this was the original form that the windows had taken.

Pugin installed stained glass windows of his own design in 1850 and the other windows were later glazed, in the same style, between 1850 and 1858. The new organ was installed in the organ chamber and on All Saints’ Day 1849 the chapel was re-opened with a full choral service.

Cracks began to appear in the arches and piers of the tower in 1662, and further repairs were carried out in 1864-1867 by George F. Bodley, who was also working simultaneously on All Saints’ Church, opposite the entrance to the college. A later Vicar of All Saints was Joseph Armitage Robinson (1858-1933), who was the vicar in 1888-1892, and for a brief period Robinson’s brother, Forbes Robinson (1867-1904), was his curate at All Saints (1891-1892).

The decorations for the newly-panelled ceilings of the nave and the tower in chapel of Jesus College were designed by William Morris and painted under his direction in 1867. In 1873-1877, the windows in the nave and transepts of the chapel were glazed by Morris and Company from designs by Edward Burne-Jones and Ford Madox Brown.

By the end of the 19th century, the chapel had attained its present proportions and appearance, in which the Norman original, together with Early English, Decorated and Perpendicular elements, James Essex’s 18th century cloisters and Pugin’s and Burne-Jones’ 19th century restorations combine to form this remarkable building.

The chapel has a memorial to Thomas Cranmer, who was a student and later a fellow of Jesus College.

The gallery was removed in the early 20th century, but may still be seen in the chapel of Westcott House.

Pugin replaced Alcock’s Perpendicular east window with three tall lancet windows (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 19: 3-12 (NRSVA):

3 Some Pharisees came to him, and to test him they asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?’ 4 He answered, ‘Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning “made them male and female”, 5 and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’ 7 They said to him, ‘Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?’ 8 He said to them, ‘It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but at the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery.’

10 His disciples said to him, ‘If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.’ 11 But he said to them, ‘Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.’

The rebuilding of the chapel shows the strong influence of AWN Pugin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (13 August 2021) invites us to pray:

We pray for the Episcopal Church in the Philippines and the work they do to spread the Gospel.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Thomas Cranmer's memorial in the chapel of Jesus College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Jesus College, Cambridge, was established in 1496 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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