17 November 2015

Two Cambridge college chapels on
the Pugin trail and with Irish links

The cloisters beside the Chapel of Jesus College, Cambridge, survive from Benedictine convent of Saint Radegund (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

During my visit to Westcott House in Cambridge last week, I naturally visited Sidney Sussex College, which is separated from Westcott by Malcolm Street, and in my search for the Cambridge works of Eric Gill I also visited both Jesus College, which is a across Jesus Lane from Westcott House, and Saint John’s College, where Gill’s works can be seen at the chapel and in Chapel Court.

But at different times during the week I also found myself visiting the chapels of Jesus College and Emmanuel College, and found myself once again on the trail of the architectural heritage of two great 19th century Gothic revival architects, AWN Pugin and GF Bodley.

The Chapel of Jesus College has been used for worship since the 12th century. It is open during the day for prayer and quietness, and all members of the college community are made welcome. The two choirs enrich the worship of the chapel, and can be heard at evensong four times a week.

The chapel at 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 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.

The tower in the Chapel of Jesus College was strengthened with repairs carried out on the advice of Augustus Pugin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

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 Augustus Pugin, 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.

Pugin replaced Alcock’s Perpendicular east window with three tall lancet windows (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

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 Pugin’s ceilings in the nave and the tower in the chapel of Jesus College were designed by William Morris (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

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

The chapel in Emmanuel College is an early work of Sir Christopher Wren (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

During the week, I also visited the Chapel in Emmanuel College, where the choir was rehearsing in advance of Evensong. The prominent central position of this chapel is a reminder of the original religious dimension to life in this college.

The Chapel, along with the cloisters outside and the gallery above, is an early work by Sir Christopher Wren. Indeed, this is the third place in the college to be used as a permanent place of worship.

The Dominican friars, also known as the Blackfriars, occupied the site before Emmanuel College was founded, and they used what is now the Hall as their church. When Sir Walter Mildmay founded Emmanuel in 1584, the friary buildings were in a semi-ruined state. The church walls were restored and a roof put on to make the hall for the new college. Another monastic building was put to use as the chapel – this is now know as the Old Library, and it served as the chapel until the present building was completed in 1677.

The moving force behind building a new chapel was William Sancroft (1617-1693) who became Master after the restoration of Charles II in 1660. He commissioned Wren and campaigned to raise the money to pay for the building, contributing generously out of his own resources. He left Emmanuel to become Dean of Saint Paul’s Cathedral after only two years, but retained a keen interest in the project, even when he later became Archbishop of Canterbury.

The original glass in the windows were plain, but current windows were added as part of a programme of restoration to mark the tercentenary of Emmanuel College in 1884.

The present stained glass is the work of Heaton, Butler, and Bayne and was completed in 1884 as part of the commemoration of the College’s tercentenary. This partnership also designed stained glass windows in a number of parish churches in the Church of Ireland, including Straffan Parish Church, Co Kildare, Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge, Dublin, and the Church of Saint John the Evangelist in Monkstown, Co Cork.

The windows in Emmanuel Chapel were probably designed by Clement John Heaton the younger (1861-1940) but the general scheme of subjects was suggested by the Revd FJA Hort, the Dublin-born New Testament scholar who was a Fellow of Emmanuel College (1872-1892).

Hort was inspired by the windows in the Chapel of Trinity College, planned a decade or so earlier by his friends and colleagues there, BF Westcott and JB Lightfoot. The figures are chosen to illustrate the continuity of the history of the Church, and the special part played in it by members of Emmanuel College.

Archbishop William Sancroft of Canterbury (left) and Bishop William Bedell of Kilmore (right) in a window in the chapel of Emmanuel College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

One window is shared as a pair by William Sancroft, Master of Emmanuel, who became Archbishop of Canterbury, and William Bedell (1571-1642), a former fellow of Emmanuel College and one of the Caroline Divines, who later became Provost of the University of Dublin and then Bishop of Kilmore.

Hort’s time at Emmanuel overlapped with Canon Forbes Robinson (1867-1904), who the Chaplain of Emmanuel College, Cambridge (1891-1896), and was briefly the curate of All Saints’ Church while his brother, Joseph Armitage Robinson was the vicar. Armitage Robinson is often seen as the heir to Hort’s mantle. The Robinsons’ father, the Revd George Robinson, was born in Co Monaghan, which brings another interesting Irish link to the life of Cambridge college chapels.

Evening lights at the chapel and cloisters of Emmanuel College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

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