Thursday, 22 March 2012

St Mary Magdalene, Cambridge

The Leper Chapel of St Mary Magdalene can only be described as astonishing, being an almost completely Norman building. Overcome with the excitement that the exterior was giving me I failed to notice that a keyholder is listed - I'm fairly sure the interior will disappoint but a re-visit is on the cards.

Pevsner: The church, which was originally the chapel of the Leper Hospital at Stourbridge, now stands desperately alone below the road and the railway approach. But visually unpromising as it is, its architectural value is high. It is one of the most complete and unspoilt pieces of Norman architecture in the county. The chapel consists of nave and straight-ended chancel. The chancel is ashlar-faced (Barnack stone?), the nave has exposed flint rubble with shafted stone quoins. The roof was renewed in the C15. The chancel was originally vaulted, see the shafts of c. 5 ft height in the corners and the traces of vaulting cells against the wall. The E window was put in in the C19, after 1819, when Cotman illustrated the building. It was then a stable. Restoration by Sir George Gilbert Scott 1867. Scott inserted the present W window, but the circular windows below are original. The other windows are roundheaded, very small - 7-8 in. their narrowest width between the splays - and enriched by nook shafts and several zigzags in the voussoirs. Other decorative enrichments are billet and similar friezes inside the nave. The most elaborate decoration is concentrated on the doorways (that on the N is bricked up) and the chancel arch. The N as well asS doorway has one order of columns and zigzag voussoirs, the chancel arch two orders to the W and one to the E. Again much zigzag. and capitals with scallops and decorated scallops.

The Leper Chapel of St Mary Magdalene (2)

The Leper Chapel of St Mary Magdalene (4)

The Leper Chapel of St Mary Magdalene (10)

St Mary Magdalene is the chapel of the old leper hospital, and though it looks forlorn, standing in a field below the road (at Stourbridge), the small aisleless building is full of interest. Restored by Sir Gilbert Scott, it is almost entirely 12th century. Though its walls of stone and cobbles are patched with brick, those of the chancel have been raised, and the oak roofs of open timbering are 15th century. The stout arch dividing the nave and chancel has shafts and zigzag ornament, and zigzag enriches the arch and hood of the south doorway. The stringcourse has carving like the teeth of a saw. The side windows have shafts and carved hoods, and there are two round windows at the west end.

I think this church deserves considerably more from both Mee and Pevsner - as I said it's astonishing and has to be one of the finest examples of Norman architecture in the county.


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