Thursday, 22 March 2012

St Mary the Less, Cambridge

St Mary is wonderful and feels like an ocean going liner. Large and light you feel like you are floating over Cambridge - so perhaps more like a Zeppelin than a liner.

Pevsner: This church, also known as Little St Mary, was originally called St Peter-without-Trumpington-Gate. It was appropriated to Peterhouse when this earliest of Cambridge Colleges was founded, and Peterhouse received its name from it. It served as the college chapel until 1632. The church goes back to the C12, as one fragment built into the tower, and now visible inside the porch, can prove. It has some Norman zigzag running up and continuing in a shaft. The remaining fragment of this tower, which is older than the rest of the church, is of flint work. The church itself was in course of rebuilding in 1340 and consecrated in 1352. It is aisleless and has no structural division between nave and chancel.Certain irregularities in the W buttresses have suggested that the whole of the present church may have been meant as the chancel of a larger collegiate church, much as is the situation at Merton College Oxford. The room is well lit from a six-light E window (with niches l. and r. whose nodding ogee heads carry tall canopies and tall four-light N and S windows (N windows re-traceried in 1857). All arches are two-centred and all tracery is still entirely Dec. So the Perp style had not yet entered Cambridge. The tracery has plenty of ogee forms, daggers and mouchettes, but none of the excesses of leaf-like shapes as East Anglia liked them and as they are reflected at St Michael’s Church. The style at Little St Mary is clearly derived from Ely work of the second quarter of the century. The vaulted Sedilia and Piscina are sadly mutilated. The church was originally entered from the SE through a porch and an ante-chamber between it and the college. E of the antechamber lay the vestry. In the late C15 an upper storey was built over vestry and antechamber, and a gallery over the porch to give direct access to the college. The staircase from the ground floor to the upper floor survives. - In the N and S walls of the church are the remains of two CHANTRY CHAPELS founded in the C15. It is not exactly known whom they were for, but presumably the N opening led into the chantry of Thomas Lane, Master of Peterhouse, which was consecrated in 1443, and that on the S into the chantry of John Warkworth, Master of Peterhouse, which was consecrated in 1487. Both chantries have a wide four-centred opening with complex cusping and a small door, also with a four-centred top, by its side. Beyond these openings there is nothing visible now of the interiors of the chantries. - FONT. Perp, octagonal, with shields. The cover, ogee-domed with arabesques, is of 1632. - PULPIT. 1741, with sounding-board and some pretty inlay. -  STAINED GLASS. E window upper parts by Kempe, 1892 (1887?). - MONUMENTS. Fragments of two Late Anglo-Saxon grave covers in the Vestry. - BRASSES. John Holdbrook d.1436. - Man in doctor’s gown, c. 1480.

Nave looking east

Window (2)

Window (5)

The church of St Mary the  Less has a gallery still connecting it with Peterhouse, that earliest of Cambridge colleges to which the church gave a name, serving as its chapel till 1632. It was as St Peter’s that the church was dedicated in the 12th century, and its new name came with its rebuilding in the 14th. Restoration last century included the east window, notable for the charming tracery above its six lights. The upper portion of its Kempe glass is in memory of James Hamblin Smith; the armorial panels below are a tribute to John Willis Clark, the Cambridge antiquarian, who was churchwarden here. There are coloured figures of St Mary and St Peter in niches on each side of the window. The best glass is the gallery of saints in the south windows; designed by Mr F. C. Eden, and shining on a clear ground,the figures are Stephen, Martin, Teresa, Nicholas, Francis, Monica, Andrew, and Elizabeth of Hungary.

There are traces of the Norman church in the modern north-west porch and an ancient mass dial on the walls. The old font has a cover in which new carving has been blended with the old. The oak pulpit and its sounding board were made in 1741; but inlaid are radiating strips of mahogany which was then coming into the hands of the wood carvers, and destined in the hands of Chippendale and his contemporaries to oust oak and walnut for furniture. On the site of one of the chantries founded by 15th century Masters of Peterhouse, a chapel has lately been built, entered by the original arch. There are two 15th century brasses, one of John Holbrook, Master of Peterhouse, and a memorial to Matthew Wren, uncle of Sir Christopher. Richard Crashaw the poet was vicar here in 1639, but better known to many, because of his monument, is Godfrey Washington, vicar from 1705 till 1729. Over the inscription is a shield with bars across and stars above, and over a coronet an eagle. The resemblance to America’s stars and stripes and bird of freedom is unmistakable, and many Americans come to see what they believe to be the memorial to the great-uncle of George Washington.

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