St Bene't's Church

St Bene't's church with its 11th-century tower
Interior of the nave, looking towards the chancel (right) and north aisle (left)

St Bene't's is a Church of England parish church in central Cambridge, England. Parts of the church, most notably the tower, are Anglo-Saxon, and it is the oldest church in Cambridgeshire[1] as well as the oldest building in Cambridge.[2]

Bene't is a contraction of Benedict, hence the unusual apostrophe in the name.


The church is on the south side of Bene't Street next to Corpus Christi College.[3] St Bene't's was the College's chapel until 1579. The College remains the church's patron, and there are continuing links between the church and the College chapel.[4]


St Bene't's Anglo-Saxon tower was "most probably" built between AD 1000–1050, although the present bell-openings were added in 1586.[1][5] The tower has characteristically Anglo-Saxon long-and-short quoins.[1] Inside the church the 11th-century arch supporting the tower is the most notable feature.[5] Parts of the north and south walls of the chancel and at least the corners of the nave walls are also Anglo-Saxon.[1] In the 13th century the chancel was altered, hence the deeply splayed Early English Gothic lancet windows on the south side (one of which is now blocked).[1] The nave and aisles were rebuilt about 1300.[1] The sedilia and piscina in the chancel are 14th-century, with Decorated Gothic ogeed arches.[6] The clerestory and roof of the nave are late Perpendicular Gothic[6] and date from 1452.[5]

St Bene't's has one monumental brass: a small kneeling figure of Richard Billingford, who died in 1442[6] and had been Master of Corpus Christi College 1398–1432.

In the third quarter of the 19th century the church was subjected to two Victorian restorations: the first directed by J.R. Brandon in 1853 and the second directed by Arthur Blomfield in 1872.[6] The church is a Grade I listed building.[5]

The 11th century tower arch


The tower has a ring of six bells, five of which are 16th or 17th century. Oldest is the second bell, cast by an unknown bellfounder in 1588.[7] A local founder, Richard Holdfield of Cambridge,[8] cast the third bell in 1607 and the fifth bell in 1610.[7] John Draper of Thetford[8] cast the tenor bell in 1618 and Robert Gurney of Bury St Edmunds[8] cast the treble bell in 1663.[7] The youngest is the fourth bell, cast by William Dobson of Downham Market[8] in 1825.[7] Dobson was a prolific bellfounder and 233 of his bells are known to survive.[8] Surviving bells by Holdfield, Draper or Gurney are much rarer.[8]


Michael Ramsey, who later became Archbishop of Canterbury, was vicar in 1938. Brothers of the Society of Saint Francis (among them Br Michael (Fisher)) served at St Bene't's from 1945 until 2005. The Revd Angela Tilby, a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4's Thought for the Day, was vicar, 2007–11. From September 2012, the vicar has been the Revd Anna Matthews, previously Minor Canon for Liturgy at St Alban's Cathedral.[9]

Fabian Stedman (1640–1713), a pioneer in the development of change ringing, was clerk of the parish in the mid 17th century.[4]

See also

Carved animals on the tower arch


Sources and further reading

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Coordinates: 52°12′13″N 0°07′06″E / 52.2037°N 0.1183°E / 52.2037; 0.1183

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