Monday, 19 March 2012

St Giles, Cambridge

Last Wednesday I went to Cambridge and visited an astonishing seventeen churches the first of which was St Giles. It has to be said that this is a monster, and a monstrosity, of a church - it is a truly hideous Victorian build - but the interior contains some surprises.

At the east end of the north and south aisles survive the old Norman doorway and Saxon chancel arch and in the south aisle you find the Norman font. The rest is nondescript.

These, and the fact that although it's locked a notice advises on how to gain access, save the church from an utter drubbing!

ST GILES, Castle Street (D). 1875 by Healey of Bradford, but containing two re-used fragments of the old church which, from their evidence, must go back to the C12. The arch at the E end of the S aisle has ornament of intersecting zigzag on the imposts and no moulding whatever in the voussoirs. It was the chancel arch of old St Giles. At the E end of the N aisle is a much more ornate arch, originally a doorway. This is pointed, has two orders of colonnettes and one more on each side of the arch, supporting the outer moulding of the arch itself which is decorated with nailhead. The main order of this has two big zigzags turned towards a keeled roll-moulding. So the date is presumably c. 1200. - PAINTING. Adoration of the Magi, copy after Veronese. - STAINED GLASS. E window 1899 by Kempe, S chapel window by the same, 1900. - PLATE. Chalice, 1622-3. Maker’s mark RB in a shield. The Paten is later. - MONUMENT. Nicholas Carrer, inscription plate between columns, obelisks and achievement on the top; no effigy; no date; c. 1620-30.

St Giles (2)

North aisle door (2)

Original chancel arch (1)

St Giles’s church, sheltered by the castle mound, with Magdalene College and St Peter’s church near by, was built of brick and stone in 1875, taking the place of the older church which stood close by. This had been turned into a strange place through additions earlier in the century. Three treasures from the old church are in the new. One is the massive Norman font. Another is the old south doorway, weathered and battered but still fine, leading now from the east end of the north aisle to the vestry. It frames a splendid modern door, the panels richly carved with foliage, in which are lambs, birds, and a pelican with her young. The third fragment of the old church is the arch the Saxons built between their nave and chancel, leading now from the south aisle to the chancel chapel. High and narrow and out of shape, it has "long and short" work in the sides, and imposts carved with cable and diaper of stars.

The reredos has a painting of the Wise Men offering gifts. The chancel screen, painted in medieval style, has pictures of saints on the base. A figure of St Giles with his crook and hind is under a canopy on the porch. The windows of the aisles have a gallery of saints of the centuries, from the first to our own; among them are St Clement (1st century), Bede, Alfred, and the Confessor (8th, 9th, and 11th), St Francis of Assisi (13th), Henry the Sixth holding a model of King’s Chapel (15th), Charles the First (17th), Samuel Seabury, first bishop of the Church in America (18th), and Bishop Gore (20th).


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