Cambridgeshire

Cambridge St John's College chapel marks 150 years

St John's College chapel from the air Image copyright St John's College,Cambridge
Image caption The chapel, on St John's Street, towers over other buildings in the area

A university chapel once described as a "white elephant" is marking 150 years since its consecration.

The chapel replaced a "relatively modest" Tudor building in 1869 to "better reflect the size and wealth" of St John's College, Cambridge.

The 175ft (53m)-long building was designed by George Gilbert Scott.

College president Frank Salmon said the chapel was "integral to college life" and had been "the perfect space" to develop its "world-famous" choir.

Image copyright Alamy
Image caption The chapel has been described as having "a poor acoustic for the spoken word but fantastic for music"
Image copyright St John's College, Cambridge
Image caption When it was built, its 50m (165ft) high tower was the tallest in Cambridge - until the Our Lady and the English Martyrs Church was built on Hills Road in 1890

"There has always been an issue about whether the chapel was a white elephant," said Dr Salmon.

"But the chapel is more integral to our academic activities than other big college chapels, with a welcome and farewell service for students every year."

Image copyright St John's College, Cambridge
Image caption About 900 people packed the new chapel for its consecration on 12 May 1869 - today the chapel is only allowed to seat 290 people

Dr Salmon added: "It was the perfect space to develop the choir from one of elderly men to one of boy choristers and choral scholars - transforming it into the world-famous one we have today.

"And while Victorian architecture was mostly despised in the 20th Century, it's a really high-quality building."

Two services were organised to be held in the chapel on Sunday to mark the anniversary.

Image copyright St John's College, Cambridge
Image caption The new chapel led to the recruitment of boy choristers and music specialist male students called choral scholars, transforming the college choir
Image copyright St John's College, Cambridge
Image caption The Choir of St John's, Cambridge today

A chapel with 'fantastic' music acoustics

  • The college, which was founded by Henry VII's mother Margaret Beaufort, first raised the idea of replacing its Tudor chapel in 1687
  • The chapel has a wooden ceiling, which is "a poor acoustic for the spoken word but fantastic for music", Dr Salmon said
  • The choir of 15 choral scholars and 20 boy choristers sing daily services, and its concerts and services are regularly broadcast on radio
  • By the 19th Century the college had more students, and a larger chapel was considered essential
  • It took more than two years to build the Gothic Revival-style church which cost £78,319 - the equivalent of £9m today
  • The college laid on a special train to bring St John's graduates from London for its consecration on 12 May, 1869
Image copyright St John's College, Cambridge
Image caption The Ascension Day service has been sung from the chapel roof since 1902, including on a windy one in 1967
Image copyright St John's College, Cambridge
Image caption "There is an autumnal mellowness to the colours used in the chapel," the Dean, Canon Mark Oakley, said

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