The Round Church (officially the Church of the Holy Sepulchre) was built around 1130, making it one of the oldest buildings in Cambridge. It is one of only four medieval round churches in England.
History of the Round Church
Records indicate that the Round Church was founded by the Fraternity of the Holy Sepulchre on land given by Abbot Reinald of Ramsey between 1114 and 1130.
Nothing else is known about this Fraternity, but their name indicates they had a connection to the Crusades and the Holy Land like the Templars and Hospitallers (who built the other round churches). The shape is based on the original Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
The Round Church of Cambridge was built in about 1130 and was originally a wayfarers' chapel, but soon became a parish church, served by the Austin Friars from the nearby Hospital of St. John (now St. John's College).
A rectangular chancel was added in the 13th century and rebuilt in the 15th century. The 15th century also saw the addition of a belfry, which was removed as part of the 19th-century restoration.
A major restoration was carried out in the 1840s after part of the round nave collapsed. Overseen by Anthony Salvin and the Cambridge Camden Society, the restoration is widely considered sensitive and accurate to the church's original appearance.
What to See at the Round Church
The exterior of the Round Church features two cylindrical levels with round-arched windows and a conical roof. The round Temple Church in London also had a conical roof before it was destroyed by fire, as reflected in this photo.
Entrance is through the west door, a round arch with Norman zigzag decorations and three carved capitals on each side. The door itself is made of wood.
Inside, the round nave is supported by eight massive cylindrical pillars and surrounded by a vaulted ambulatory. The pillars feature some Norman carved decoration. The fine vaults over the ambulatory were re-erected from the original stonework in the 19th century.
The entire clerestory (the upper level) dates from the 19th century, but reproduces the original architecture. Corbels of human heads top each pillar in the clerestory. The domed ceiling is painted in a light grey-blue and a lamp hangs from the center.
The interior is lit by small, jewel-like stained glass windows designed by Thomas Willement and added in the 1840s restoration. There are no pews or tombs in the floor to interrupt the symmetry of the space; just colored tiles. The 15th-century chancel includes an angel roof of the same date.
The Round Church is no longer used as a church; it now houses exhibitions on the history of the church and Christianity in Cambridge (called "Saints and Scholars"). It is open daily.
Quick Facts on the Round Church
|Names:||Church of St. Sepulchre · Church of the Holy Sepulchre · Round Church|
|Categories:||churches; round buildings; Grade I listed buildings|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||52.208382° N, 0.118881° E|
|Address:||Round Church St.|
|Hours:||Tue-Sat 10-5, Sun-Mon 1-5pm|
|Lodging:||View hotels near the Round Church|
- Personal visit (exterior only; June 2007).
- Geoffrey Tyack , Blue Guide Oxford & Cambridge, 6th ed. (2004), 237.
- The Round Church - Christian Heritage Cambridge
- Cambridge, The Holy Sepulchre (Round Church) - Cambridgeshire Churches
- Photos of the Round Church - here on Sacred Destinations
Map of the Round Church, Cambridge
Below is a location map and aerial view of the Round Church. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.