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Great St. Mary's Church

Heritage / Visitor Centre

Senate House Hill

Tel: 01223 747273

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Great St. Mary's Church

Great St Mary’s has been at the heart of Cambridge for at least 800 years, welcoming people from many backgrounds and nationalities. It is the University Church and has played a significant part in the history of the City and University of Cambridge.  

● Great St. Mary’s was the first home of the University when scholars came from Oxford in 1209. Here lectures were given, degrees conferred and celebrations held.
●  Great St. Mary’s played a leading part in the history of the Reformation. Erasmus, Bucer and other influential figures preached here.
●  Royal patrons included King John, Edward III, Richard III, Henry VII and Henry VIII. Queen Elizabeth I visited the Church in 1564.
●  There has been bell-ringing since 1516 and the ‘Cambridge Quarters’ were the model for the ‘Westminster chimes’ of Big Ben which ring out worldwide.
●  The Church has fine stone tracery by John Wastell, master mason for King’s College Chapel,
●  It is unusual for parish churches to have two organs. At the West end of the Church is the ‘university organ’, purchased from St James’s Church, Piccadilly in 1698. This was used by both the parish and university. In 1869, a ‘parish’ organ was installed in the chancel and subsequently replaced in 1991. Both are used on a regular basis. Great St. Mary’s is one of the few churches were a double organ concerto can be performed.
● Oak beams for the roof, with carved bosses were donated by Henry VII in 1505.  The oaks came from Chesterford Park in South Cambridgeshire which actually belonged to the Abbott of Westminster.  In the British Library, There is an abject letter of apology from Henry VII to the Abbott for cutting down his oaks!  When the roof showed signs of decay in 1783, a supplementary one was built a few feet above the original and the two tied together.
● A 17th century font,
● The datum point from which the first English milestones were measured in 1732.
●  After the Reformation,
Great St Mary’s became a place for preaching. A three- decker pulpit was set up in the centre of the Church with galleries on all four sides to accommodate members of the university who were required to listen to formal sermons.   
●  The interior was re-arranged in the 1860s with a new main altar, carved choir stalls and fixed pews.
●  Each of the clerestory windows is based on a verse from the Te Deum and inserted between 1902 and 1904. Sixty figures are portrayed, running east to west along the north side of the Church and then west to east along the south. They depict the ‘glorious company of the apostles, the goodly fellowship of prophets and the noble army of martyrs’.

●  We are a centre for University and civic events such as the University sermons held each term, and services which the Mayor of Cambridge and councillors attend.
●  We arrange sermons, talks and discussions on a range of subjects.
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York conducted a joint teaching session in the church, which attracted people from a wide range of backgrounds.
●  We hold regular concerts as well as other events arranged by the Church and community groups.
●  Other events, such as the annual candlelit carol service at Christmas, attract over a thousand people.
●  In addition, we work with partners at home and abroad in social and mission projects.
●  Our mission includes the Michaelhouse Centre and Chaplaincy in Trinity Street and the Chaplaincy to the non-collegiate members of the University. Both Chaplains are Associate Vicars of Great St Mary’s.

Opening Times

Opening Times (1 Jan 2020 - 31 Dec 2020)
Bank Holiday10:0017:30


Ticket TypeTicket Tariff
Child midweek£5.00 per ticket
Everyone midweek£5.00 per ticket
Everyone midweek£5.00 per ticket
Everyone midweek£5.00 per ticket
Everyone Saturday & Sunday£5.00 per ticket
Family midweek£15.00 per ticket
Family Saturday & Sunday£15.00 per ticket

Everyone £5

Pre-booked Group rates for 10 or more people available: contact Shop Supervisor, Lorraine Walton on lw606@cam.co.uk
Last Admission to the tower is 30 minutes before closing time.

Opening times may change subject to weddings, funerals and bad weather.

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