As one of the oldest churches in Cambridge, St. Edward’s has an extensive history dating back to the beginning of the 11th century where there was likely a Saxon church. The current building dates from the 14th century, but prayers have been offered in this place for over a thousand years. We continue to join with the ‘communion of saints’ in worship in this sacred space.
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 undertook his vision of building King’s College Chapel. 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 Vicar-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. With its particular status in connection with Trinity Hall, St. Edward’s offered the reformers a place to meet, pray, study the Bible, and preach freely. Names such as Thomas Bilney, Robert Barnes, Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer are just some of those associated with the church.
At the Christmas Midnight Mass at St Edward’s in 1525 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’.
Indeed, the reformers did light a candle of faith in this country that has gone out to the ends of the earth and has been passed on to us. Today we face different challenges in our culture, but St. Edward’s aspires to be a part of Latimer’s vision where the love and hope of Christ continues to spread throughout this country and the world. Whether we worship within the walls of St. Edward’s, or serve outside in the community, we invite you to join in with us as we seek to make the gospel of Christ known in Cambridge and beyond.
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 continues to use the rich heritage of faith found in the liturgies of the Book of Common Prayer (1662). 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. BCP services are on Fridays and on the first Sunday of the month.
St. Edward’s now meets a wide variety of people from all generations and continues to grow as a community faith. We are a Eucharistic church and follow the patterns of Common Worship. Following our heritage, we love to preach and enjoy worship filled with the Spirit.