St Bene’t’s church is the oldest in Cambridge. A classic Anglo-Saxon tower, each stage a little narrower than the one below. There are six bells in the tower. In 1273 there was one, and the Rector, Alan, disputed the new University’s assumed right to ring it to summon the gownsmen to lectures. It was agreed that they would make an annual payment for the use of said bell. The most recent work done has been to install a ramp down through the churchyard, and there are still some nice memorials in place. This was a 2019 project with Freeland Rees Roberts the architects.
The glass doors, installed for the Millennium, have sculptured handles designed by Neal French, featuring the pelican, a traditional symbol of Christ and part of Corpus Christi College’s coat of arms. The College is next door and was founded in 1352. The guidebook comments that if the church was wealthy, the old Saxon tower would no doubt have been replaced. This part of the town was poor and overcrowded. The Black Death between 1348 and 1350 meant a third of the town’s population – and half its clergy – died. Corpus Christi was built as an act of thanksgiving (presumably by those who survived) and part of its foundation included “leave to appropriate the church of St Bene’t”. This gave the church new patronage, and the college didn’t have to spend money building a chapel. It remained a parish church under the Bishop of Ely, so there were some interesting disputes over the centuries.
I didn’t really work the architecture of the interior out. The guide tells me how the part I didn’t photograph linked in with Corpus, nor did I photo the Saxon arch inside (sorry).
The North Aisle was added in 1853, this included the porch, and the church was reordered, and the south aisle rebuilt, in 1872. The north aisle now houses some excellent history banners, and there is a very full guidebook. Look up and enjoy the angels (but they have no wings, so are they queens?) designed by the architect Raphael Brandon – he had studied East Anglian angel roofs.
The Franciscans moved into Cambridge in 1938 and after the War they ‘took over’ the church. I remember Brother Martin SSF from our time in Cambridge – he was Vicar here from 1971 to 1985. In the north aisle is this Maquette of the Crucifixion by Enzo Plazotta, which was given to the church by him – the full size statue stands in the College Garden of Westminster Abbey.
The Chancel is very simple, but I found it rather sad that the altar platform covers a lot of this ledger stone. At first I thought it was the Vicar’s name missing, then realised that it would mean that said Vicar was female – so I assume there is a Vicar’s name, and his wife’s name, both covered up.
The East Window is rather Victorian – I like the way he does the hair of Mary Magdalene.
.Various other things of note. A memorial to Fabian Stedman (1631-1713) – bellringer. I miss having bells that can be rung. Just one of several memorials. A modern font – rather lovely. Jesus in the temple with the teachers (Candlemas) in a window. The organist kept behind bars.
The lovely tower again. They have an excellent website – https://www.stbenetschurch.org/
Almost next door is the Corpus Clock. Installed in what was the doorway to a bank in 2008 it is amazing that 13 years on there is always a crowd looking at it. Conceived and funded by John C. Taylor – for more details see https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/corpus-clock-corpus-christi-chronophage and watch his fascinating video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cCqGtvTA36k. The clock’s keeper explains it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x9P7nTp_fkQ. It is a beautiful piece of work.