The Church of St Edward King and Martyr

There was almost certainly a Saxon church on this site, though the present church dates back to the thirteenth century. The pointed arch at the base of the tower is one of the oldest parts of the building. The church was rebuilt around 1400, and the lofty chancel arch and the tall pointed arches in the nave date from this period. Most of the windows were added later, including the East window, which dates from the middle of the nineteenth century and was designed by G. G. Scott.

In 1445 King Henry VI started his great work of building King’s College. The Church of St John Zachery, that was used by both Trinity Hall and Clare Hall (now Clare College), was on the site of the new College, and was demolished. In recompense, the King made over the living of the Church of St Edward to the Master and Fellows of Trinity Hall in perpetuity, and they still appoint its Chaplain. By 1446 the North and South chapels had been built, the former used by Trinity Hall and the latter by Clare Hall. They contribute much to the spacious appearance of the present building.

St Edward’s and the Reformation

The church played a unique role in the early days of the Reformation. A group of evangelicals in Cambridge, of whom Thomas Bilney was the first, had been meeting regularly in the early 1520s. They were influenced by a fresh translation of the New Testament by Erasmus and by the ideas of Luther, and believed passionately in the forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ.

At the Christmas Midnight Mass at St Edward’s in 1525 one of them, Robert Barnes, preached what was probably the first openly evangelical sermon to be preached in any church in the country, proclaiming the Christian gospel and accusing the Church of its heresies. St Edward’s can thus claim to be ‘the cradle of the Reformation’ in England. Other reformers preached regularly at St Edward’s, including Hugh Latimer until he left Cambridge in 1531. Some of his sermons preached here have been preserved, and the pulpit from which the reformers preached is still in use.

Bilney, Barnes and Latimer were all put to death for their beliefs. As he comforted Nicholas Ridley at the stake in Oxford, Latimer said ‘Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man. We shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out’. They are still remembered today by Anglicans worldwide.

St Edward’s in Modern Times.

A notable Chaplain was F. D. Maurice who served here from 1870-2; he was well known for his liberal views about hell, and for his Christian socialism. Another lively period at St Edward’s was the 1930s when St Edward’s was the TocH church for Eastern England and a popular church with students, who knew it as ‘Teddy’s’.

St Edward’s has adhered to the Book of Common Prayer  (1662) as the basis for most of its services. First published in 1552, the elegant and memorable prose of the Prayer Book sets out a pattern of worship that has been the inspiration of Anglicans for over 450 years. It also provides a link with the outlook of the reformers who preached here in the 1520s.

Recently St Edward’s has also become a centre for meditative Christianity. There are many people in contemporary society who value spiritual practice, and we hope that they will find here some of the riches of the Christian contemplative tradition, especially at the 5.00 pm Eucharist held here each Sunday.

3 responses to “History

  1. Robin Thornton

    Good afternoon. My great-grandfather, the Rev Canon FS Thornton, was described as chaplain of St Edward’s, Cambridge, in May 1910 when he led a service in memory of Kind Edward VII. Do you hold any records of him, can you tell me, please? Thank you. Robin Thornton

    • hello Robin,
      I will try to find out but don’t have much time for trawling through the records. Please be patient.

      • Robin Thornton

        Hello, again. Sorry to be a nuisance but I wonder if you were ever able to find anything about my great-grandfather? If not, please don’t worry!

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