St. Mary's University Church, Cambridge

St. Mary's University Church, also known as St. Mary the Great, is the church of the University Cambridge as well as the principal parish church of the city of Cambridge.

Like the University Church of St. Mary in Oxford, Great St. Mary's in Cambridge has seen the turmoil of the Reformation as well as many academic disputations and ceremonies over the years.


History of St. Mary's University Church

A church has stood on this site since the 12th century, but the present St. Mary's Church was built from 1478 to 1519, with the tower completed in 1608. The cost was covered by Richard III and Henry VII, as well as various prominent statesmen and clergy.

Great St. Mary's witnessed the turmoil of the Reformation first hand. Many leading reformers preached here and some of them were burned at the stake under "Bloody" Mary Tudor.

The body of German theologian Martin Bucer was buried in the church, exhumed and burned under Mary Tudor, and restored under Elizabeth I. His ashes still lie under a brass floor plate on the south side of the chancel.

Great St. Mary's ceased to host university ceremonies when the Senate House was built for that purpose in 1730.

What to See at St. Mary's University Church

St. Mary's University Church is Late Perpendicular in design, with a clerestoried nave and aisles. As in other East Anglian churches of this period, the spandrels of the arches are filled with intricate patterns. The stained glass is by Hardman (1867-69).

The chimes of the University Clock in St. Mary's Church are copied in Big Ben, London.

The galleries were added in 1735 to accommodate the large audiences that gathered for special occasions and the compulsory university sermon.

St. Mary's contains one of the few movable pulpits in England - located on the north side of the chancel steps, it can be pulled out on rails into the middle of the nave.

The hearse cloth of Henry VII is at the east end of the north aisle.

The font dates from 1632 and is medieval in design. Behind the high altar in the chancel is a gilded wood sculpture of Christ in Majesty (1960). The organ was installed in 1991.

For an admission fee you can climb the tower for excellent views of Cambridge.

Quick Facts on St. Mary's University Church

Site Information
Names:Great St. Mary's · St. Mary's University Church
Dedication: Virgin Mary
Status: active
Visitor and Contact Information
Coordinates:52.205375° N, 0.118302° E
Address:Senate House Hill
Cambridge, England
Lodging:View hotels near St. Mary's University Church
Note: This information was accurate when first published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours and prices can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip.


  1. Personal visit (exterior only; June 2, 2007).
  2. Geoffrey Tyack , Blue Guide Oxford & Cambridge, 6th ed. (2004), 193-94.
  3. Great St. Mary's, the University Church - official website

More Information

© Holly Hayes
© Holly Hayes
© Holly Hayes
© Holly Hayes

Map of St. Mary's University Church, Cambridge

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