The Round Church

Ok, and building number 2 from my trip into Cambridge this weekend! This is the Round Church, actually called The Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Exterior! The round bit at the front is the earliest bit:

“… built in about 1130 by the ‘fraternity of the Holy Sepulchre’. They were evidently influenced by the Round Church in Jerusalem; this church, called the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, was built by the Roman Emperor Constantine in the 4th century.”

The church website

After paying my £2.50 entry free (in Cambridge that’s less than most of the ice-creams!) I had a nice chat with the volunteer who handed me a summary leaflet of the place. I’ve scanned it in for you, since it saves me trying and failing to explain through the pictures, or worse just plagiarising the words.

Scan 171000001

Scan 171000003

Ok, so you’ve definitely seen the outside now! I stood right up against a wall to take the longer shots successfully, got some very odd looks!


As you can see, the floor here was too large; I couldn’t get a decent shot of it. But hopefully this woeful snippet gives you an idea of what we’re looking at. This used to be all there was of the church, just this tiny round building. For an idea: the round area was crossable in about four stretching steps on my tiny 27 inch legs.  I’m not surprised that according to its website this church only operated as a chapel for passersby until it was expanded sometime in the 13th century. It couldn’t fit anyone else in!


Here we have a sadly slightly blurry picture of the ceiling of the round bit. (According to the PDF this bit is called the nave.)


Here you can see the original Norman big thick chunky stone pillars and low rounded arches. No wonder they were good at castles; they knew how to build big bulky stone things! I can’t 100% remember where I was standing to take this, but I’m pretty certain that in the centre you can see the choir room and to the left is the north aisle, also called the scriptorium.

I can transcribe this image if anyone asks, but it basically just says that a scriptorium means “a place for writing”, found in medieval European monasteries. Then it goes on about the University of Cambridge, and says (relevant info at last!) that when this church was just a wayfarers’ chapel it was manned by a priest from the Hospital of St Johns. It goes on to say, in very pretty words, that the church offers this space to the scholars and graduates of the University to allow them a space to study away from the “pressure-driven, isolating and even dehumanising” academic experience.

Fun fact: I didn’t see that there was a rope barrier at shin level barring entry into this room and nearly either fell over or knocked over the barrier, I’m not sure which would have happened first …

So this room was added later, though I can’t quite work out when? The roof is 14th/15th century apparently and is an excellent example of a tie-beam ceiling, including cute carved angels!

And then there was also the choir, added sometime after the 13th century, and the south aisle, which I think was added as part of a 19th century restoration.

I found the purely Norman bits of this the most interesting – both because of how strikingly castle-like the pillars seemed to me, but also because I had never been in a round church before. According to Wikipedia there are only four left in use in England, since most other churches were built in a cross shape. I did a quick google and came up with this blog post about them and a few websites.

The Temple Church

The Holy Sepulchre

Do have a look if you liked this round church! Maybe I’ll go and see the Northampton one sometime.

Well, thanks for flipping through another quick photo tour with me! I’ll be back tomorrow with probably a more text-heavy piece.

The Round Church

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