Great St Mary’s Church has been the church of Cambridge University since 1209 and lies in the heart of Cambridge, located at the north end of Kings Parade. Because of Great St Mary’s Church’s affiliation with Cambridge University, it has some influence over the universities legislation. An example of this is that the University officers have to live within 20 miles of Great St Mary’s Church and the undergraduates have to live within just 3 miles.
The Great St Mary’s Church you see today isn’t exactly the original building. It is thought that the foundations of the church were placed in 1010 and the first known legal documentation of Great St Mary’s Church was in 1205 when the church was known as St Mary by the market.
In 1290 the church burnt to the ground and rebuilding did not start until 188 years later, in 1478. The rebuilt version of Great St Mary’s Church is the version that we see today.
Until 1515 the bells were hung by a wooden structure that stood in the churchyard which was dismantled when the bells moved location to the tower. They replaced the bells twice, once in 1722 and once in 1724 and the Society of Cambridge Youths were formed to take responsibility for ringing the bells.
The Society of Cambridge Youths claims that they are the oldest bellringing society within the whole of Britain and the second oldest of every church in the world that has a continuous ringing history. Although we are not sure if this legend is true we still feel like it is an impressive feat.
Most of the original bells are still at the Great St Mary’s Church and continue to sound the Cambridge Chimes. But in 2009 the old ring of the bells were replaced with a new ring cast, that consisted of 13 bells in key D. This was all made possible by a donation from Dr Martin C Faulkes.
What to Do
A must-do when visiting Great St Mary’s Church is to climb the tower! Their world-famous tower is 34.7 meters tall and consists of 123 steps. Make sure you wear sensible shoes as the steps are numerous and narrow, so heels are probably not the answer! Take your family or friends and make the effort to climb this historic tower, as the views at the top are spectacular.
Much like our punting tour, you are provided with a beautiful view of the Kings College Chapel and the adjacent colleges. At the top of the tower, you get a 360-degree view of Cambridge from the freshly-refurbished viewing platform, whilst you take in all of the vast views of our wonderful city.
Having done all that exercise you may have worked up an appetite and we have just the solution for you. In the medieval chapel, just north of Great St Mary’s Church, on Trinity street is the Michaelhouse cafe. This cafe (still a part of Great St Mary’s) provides homemade food, including some delicious cakes, and offers you a quiet place to rest after your long climb.
Michaelhouse supports local artists, so your beautiful views don’t end at the top of the tower. Displayed around the cafe is currently an exhibition by Sarah Rawlinson, The Tale of Two Stories. The series of photographs aim to display the exquisite beauty of the Cambridge libraries and Kings College Chapel.
So next time you’re in Cambridge, take half an hour out of your day in Cambridge to view the city from a different perspective, who knows, you just might learn a thing or two.
Posted on August 21st, 2021, by the Traditional Punting Company Editor