22 August 2021

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
85, Saint Bene’t’s Church, Cambridge

Welcome to the churches of Cambridge … the porch at Saint Bene’t’s Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XII), and later this morning (22 August 2021) I am leading Morning Prayer in Castletown Church, Co Limerick, presiding at the Parish Eucharist in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, and preaching at both.

Before this day gets busy, I am taking a little time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading. Each morning in the time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am reflecting 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 churches in Cambridge that are not college chapels. In this series, I have already included Great Saint Mary’s (25 May 2021). My photographs this morning (22 August 2021) are from Saint Bene’t’s Church.

Saint Bene’t’s Church dates back a millennium to 1020 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

For some years, I enjoyed study leave at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, during the courses offered by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies. During those courses, we used the chapel for prayers twice a day.

But, during that time, I appreciated Saint Bene’t’s Church, just a five-minute walk away, which effectively became my parish church while I was on study leave in Cambridge.br />
I skipped out of Sidney Sussex most mornings to attend the Daily Eucharist at 8 a.m. in Saint Bene’t’s, a short walk away at the corner of Bene’t Street and Free School Lane.

Tucked into a corner of Corpus Christi College, Saint Bene’t’s is a beautiful and ancient church, appreciated by many for its history and architecture. The name of the church may have inspired the setting for Susan Howatch’s Saint Benet’s Trilogy – although the three novels are set in the fictional Saint Benet’s Church in London in the 1980s and 1990s.

This church is an oasis of calm in the middle of the university and the city, and there is something special and something deeply spiritual about Saint Bene’t’s, an ancient parish church.

This the oldest building in Cambridgeshire and has been a place of Christian worship for 1,000 years. This is an Anglo-Saxon foundation dating from ca 1020, when Canute was King of England. The church is dedicated to Saint Benedict, yet, despite of its name, Saint Bene’t’s was never a monastic place of worship, and has been a parish church from the very beginning.

The Saxon tower was probably completed around 1033. The arcading separating the nave and the south aisle dates from around 1300. To the south or right of the altar, are two curved ogee arched recesses dating from the 14th century. One arch holds the sedilia or seating for the clergy; the other arch once held the piscina or shallow basin for washing the sacred vessels and for disposing of water used sacramentally.

In 1352 the Guild of Corpus Christi, which met at Saint Bene’t’s, joined with the Guild of Saint Mary, which met at Great Saint Mary’s Church, the University Church, to found the College of Corpus Christi. For many decades after the foundation of Corpus Christi, the college had no chapel, and the members worshipped at Saint Bene’t’s Church. Saint Bene’t’s was used as the college chapel for many years and the two still have strong links.

Tiny peepholes in a wall at the east end of the south aisle indicate a 16th century staircase leading to an upper room. The staircase is now blocked off, and the upper room is part of Corpus Christi College.

Since 1578, there have been 73 incumbents at St Bene’t’s and 52 of these have been members of Corpus Christi. Those former vicars include Michael Ramsey, who was here in 1938 and later became Archbishop of Canterbury. The church was staffed by Franciscans for 60 years from 1945 to 2005. A recent vicar was the theologian, writer and broadcaster, Canon Angela Tilby. The present vicar is the Revd Anna Matthews.

The church has an icon of Christ Pantocrator, an icon of Saint Benedict and Saint Francis given by the Franciscan brothers when they were leaving, a crucifix carved by a sister of the Community of Saint Clare, ‘The Passion,’ a modern sculpture by the Italian-born British sculptor, Enzo Plazzotta (1921-1981), and a new icon of Saint Anne by Aidan Hart.

Inside Saint Bene’t’s Church, the oldest building in Cambridgeshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 6: 56-69 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 56 ‘Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live for ever.’ 59 He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.

60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’ 61 But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, ‘Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But among you there are some who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65 And he said, ‘For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.’

66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67 So Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ 68 Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’

‘The Passion,’ a sculpture by Enzo Plazzotta in Saint Bene’t’s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (22 August 2021, Trinity XII) invites us to pray:

Welcoming God,
You make our hearts sing for joy.
May we be doorkeepers in the house of God,
Embracing all who enter.
Let us praise and worship You.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Blind recesses on the south side of the transept in Saint Bene’t’s … they once opened into a room that is now part of Corpus Christi College (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

Looking out onto the world from Saint Bene’t’s Church, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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