Thursday, 22 March 2012

Great St Mary, Cambridge

The jury is out on St Mary: on the one hand I like the exterior and location in the market square but on the other I'm not sure about the interior - for a church of this size it's rather barren. I also liked the fact, although I didn't climb, that the tower is open (for a fee) and visitors can ascend and look across Cambridge.

I completely missed William Butler's monument and Martin Bucer's brass - I'm unclear as to how!

ST MARY-THE-GREAT. There was a church here in 1205, if not earlier. A fire is recorded in 1290, and a re-consecration of the High Altar in 1351. The walls of the Chancel belong to C13. The Sedilia are C19 but in imitation of original work there discovered. But for the chancel walls, nothing was allowed to remain, when rebuilding was decided on in 1478. We are well provided with dates for the rebuilding. The tower was begun in 1491, the chancel was in use in 1484, the nave roof finished in 1508, the bells hung in the (incomplete) tower in 1515, the Lady Chapel (now Vestry) was completed in 1522, the W window glazed in 1536. In 1575 a new W portal was made in the Elizabethan style. This was replaced by the present one (designed by Sir G. G. Scott) in 1851. The chancel was repaired and a new E window put in by Salvin in 1857. The S porch, a copy of the original one, dates from 1888. St Mary is designed on the pattern of the proudest East Anglian parish churches of the Late Perp style, such churches as Lavenham or Saffron Walden. It has large windows throughout, with four-centred heads, those of the ground floor with one transom. The aisle windows are of four lights, those of the clerestory of three, but double in number. The church is embattled, the battlements of the chancel, which is lower than the nave but higher than the aisles, being ornamented. The W tower has a top with polygonal turret pinnacles with openwork sides and straight tops. In spite of the Gothic appearance of this, it dates only from 1593-1608. The pinnacles ended at first in big balls. Impressive as the outside is, the INTERIOR is more splendid. Its effect depends on the five bays of nave and aisles with extremely tall slender shafts between, carrying two-centred arches high up, and the busy decoration of the spandrels and the zone between them and the clerestory windows. The piers have a section of four shafts and four hollows with some finer members in between to emphasize the many thin lines upward. The decoration in the spandrels, also those of the chancel arch, is of blank tracery. It is carried out in clunch throughout and was originally coloured. Also of clunch the panelled ceiling of the tower room. This opens with arches to the N and S into the aisles which run as far W as the W wall of the tower. Of further interior stone decoration the bands in the aisles below the windows and the two niches l. and r. of the E window may be mentioned. - The church has excellent contemporary roofs with very shallow four-centred transverse arch-beams. The nave roof has big bosses at the main points of intersection. A gift by Henry VII of timbers to the church is recorded for 1505. It is a fact well worth remembering that, when James Essex the Elder was asked in 1726 to repair this roof he rather built a supplementary roof above it and tied the old roof into the new - a very early case of preservation instead of restoration or replacement. William Morris would have congratulated Mr Essex. Galleries in the aisles were put in in 1735, it is said, by Gibbs. At the same time a gallery was placed on top of the Rood Screen with plenty of seats to house Masters and Doctors at University ceremonies. This so-called Throne was removed in 1863. - FURNISHINGS: FONT. Still entirely in the Perp tradition, although the date is 1632 and the ornament corresponds to that date. It has strapwork and typical thin leaf scrolls. The plain cover is of the same time. - BENCH-ENDS. Some original, with poppy-heads. - SCREEN. The chancel chapels are separated from the aisles by beautifully carved panels in two tiers, obviously Early Georgian. They are indeed made up of parts of the big three-decker pulpit of c. 1735 which the church originally possessed. - ORGAN. By Father Schmidt, 1697. - CHEST. Flemish, C15 with Flamboyant tracery; much restored. - STAINED GLASS. Chancel S and E by Hardman 1867 and 1869; Nave W end by Clayton & Bell; Clerestory 1892-1904 by Powell’s; NE Chapel 1922 by James Hogan of Powell’s. - PLATE. Two Almsdishes of 1681. Maker’s mark EG. - MONUMENTS. William Butler, famous physician d. 1618, alabaster, with frontal demi-figure in niche, putti and two obelisks on the sides, achievement on top; good quality London work. - R. Booth Campbell Brown d. 1893, brass tablet by Paton Watson in the Arts and Crafts style.

Great St Mary (3)

Nave looking east


Cambridge has a group of churches well worthy of the traveller’s attention. It will be convenient to visit them before going the round of the University and its colleges. We take 17 of the churches, beginning with the University church of Great St Mary.

Fringed with trees and bordered with lawn, St Mary’s is a fine building in a splendid setting, befitting its rank as the University church. With its great turreted tower of gleaming stone rising high above embattled walls, it has the busy marketplace on one hand, and on the other the majestic group of Caius College, the Senate House, the Old Schools, and King’s Chapel.

It comes chiefly from rebuilding on older foundations between 1478 and 1608. Though the chancel is partly 14th century, the aisle windows are 18th century (when the galleries designed by James Gibbs were erected), and the south porch was made new in the 19th. The nave was completed by 1519, and the shields in the windows of the aisles are of those who helped its rebuilding, in response to the Proctors of the University who rode through England seeking contributions. Carved in stone below these windows are the pelican of Edward the Fourth, crowns for Henry the Seventh, and plumes for Henry the Eighth as Prince of Wales. Among the stone corbels supporting the roofs of the aisles are a white hart, an angel, a jester with a bauble, a cock with a scroll, and another cock attacked by a fox, alluding to Bishop Alcock of Ely.

The nave is striking with its lofty arcades of delicately moulded arches, their spandrels filled with tracery below a band of quatrefoils. Similar carving is over the chancel arch. The clerestory is a splendid lantern of richly glowing glass (by Powell) in the long lines of ten three-light windows on each side, illustrating the Te Deum. In this gallery of 60 figures, with saints and apostles, are portraits of Dr Hort, Bishop Lightfoot and Bishop Westcott, Dr Arnold, F. D. Maurice, and Dean Stanley. The best of the fine old roofs is the nave’s, supported on arches which spring from between the clerestory windows; bosses adorn the ridge and angels the wall-plates. There are several Jacobean benches with foliage poppyheads, and the screens in the aisles are 1640. The stalls and the rest of the benches are 19th century; the font, with flowers and cherubs, is 1632.

The earlier work in the chancel is seen in remains of an arch high in the south wall, a fine double piscina, and a priest’s seat. In the rich sculpture of the 19th century reredos are the Crucifixion with Mary and John, Samuel in the School of the Prophets, and Paul preaching at Athens. A floor brass tells of the reformer Martin Bucer, who was buried here in 1551, though his body was taken up in 1557 and burned in the marketplace. A wall-monument has the figure of William Butler of Clare Hall, a noted physician who died in 1618; he wears a ruff, and has his hands on a book and a skull. A beautiful chest is 15th century, and in the Tudor south doorway, adorned with the rose and portcullis, hangs an old panelled door.

The north chapel has a roof-corbel showing an ape blessing a chalice, and a stringcourse with the Bourchier and Stafford knots. Here are war flags which flew over Cambridge Military Hospital near Boulogne, and a lectern made from wreckage on the shore for use in the hospital chapel. Two windows here have more Powell glass, one with four saints and pictures of Latimer by a fire, Isaac Barrow with St John’s College for a background, Thomas Bray, and Bishop Berkeley. The east window has the Crucifixion and Our Lord Risen, our four patron saints, and pictures of Rheims Cathedral, the Sphinx, Mesopotamia, and the landing at Gallipoli. Except for its modern west doorway the tower is 16th century. On its peal of twelve bells are sounded the Cambridge Quarter Chimes. Curfew is tolled every evening on the great bell.

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