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  • Writer's pictureRebecca Marks, MA

A Brief History of St Giles’ Church in Cambridge

What is St Giles’ Church?

St Giles’ Church is a grade II-listed church in Cambridge that was originally founded in the late 11th century.


St Giles’ Church in Cambridge

St Giles’ Church History

St Giles’ Church is a unique cultural and architectural landmark in the heart of Cambridge. Founded in the early medieval period, the building is deeply embedded in the city’s history, and has borne witness to many different iterations of its community over the last millennium. St Giles’ was consecrated by the Bishop of Ely in the late 19th century and is currently used by Anglican and Romanian Orthodox congregations, though it also acts as a thriving venue for concerts and events. While the church was originally founded in the 11th century, its later revival in the 1800s means that the design and architecture of St Giles’ is in fact Victorian. The church interior includes works by some of the world’s most famous artists and architects, including Charles Kempe, Sir Ninian Comper and Sir Christopher Wren.


The original Norman Church was built in 1092 by Hugolina, the wife of the county sheriff. It remained largely unchanged and undeveloped for several centuries, in part due to its poor location in an area badly affected by bubonic plague in the 14th century. However, in the 19th century, under the pressures of the industrial revolution, the church was entirely remodelled to suit the needs of a rapidly expanding parish. During this revival, St Giles’ sadly lost many of its medieval features, however some still remain: an 11th-century archway and 12th-century door frame which serve as reminders of the church’s early heritage.


St Giles’ as a building is recognised as a Grade II-listed property owing to its iconic design features and its links to many historic British designers. With its decorative masonry, polychrome brickwork, and stained-glass windows, the church offers an excellent case study of the Victorian Gothic style. An Anglican focus on conveying religious faith through visual design is apparent in the wonderful ornamentation of the church interior, which is abundantly decorated with carvings and rich fabrics. The marvellous standing collection of artworks is worth viewing as well, especially two copies of oil paintings by the Italian Renaissance artists Michelangelo and Paolo Veronese. Near the church gate is another listed feature: an iconic war memorial unveiled in 1920.


The opulence of design which the church now enjoys becomes even more interesting when considered in light of the history of the surrounding area. In the early modern period, Castle End was considered one of the more impoverished neighbourhoods of the city. Thus, with the rebuilding of St Giles’ in the 1870s, the area was injected with a new lease of life. To this day, the church maintains its reputation for its presence within the community, housing the Cambridge Churches Homeless Project, civic events, and other charity functions.


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