St John's College Chapel, University of Cambridge. Sir George Gilbert Scott. 1863-69. Ancaster stone. St John's Street, Cambridge. Photograph and text by Jacqueline Banerjee 2008. [This image may be used for any scholarly or educational purpose without prior permission.]
Scott began working on this chapel not long after designing the one at King's College London, which is perched on the first floor above the Great Hall there, and has an interesting bracketed out apse. As with his recent chapel at Exeter College Oxford, when designing for King's he had been inspired by the medieval Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, a wonderful High Gothic creation curiously built on two levels, with a soaring polygonal apse. Yet again, at St John's College Chapel in Cambridge, the influence of the Sainte-Chapelle is unmistakable, especially when the apse is seen from outside. In this case, Nikolaus Pevsner is not at all in favour of the "apsidal form" (as against the more usual square end), saying that it does "not join up with the rectangular shapes of the other buildings and the court" and that this makes the chapel appear "alien in the community of collegiate buildings." He concludes grumpily, "Scott and his contemporaries visualized their buildings in isolation" (153). (He complains even more bitterly about Waterhouse's Red Buildings at Pembroke, 127.) Pevsner adds that the stained glass inside St John's College Chapel is mostly by Clayton & Bell, in "their typical dark browns, reds, and whites" (154). So although there is much fine work inside the college chapel, there can be no real comparison with the exquisite interior of the Sainte-Chapelle — which is, after all, reckoned to be "the brightest of all the Gothic jewels in Paris" (Kottman 102). Indeed, the interior of St John's College Chapel has a certain, rather typically Victorian, "heavy grandeur" about it (Taylor 30). Nevertheless, with its tall Gothic windows, intricate tracery and rich wall sculpture, it blends in very well with its surroundings, and is much too fine and familiar a part of this beautiful street to strike most people as "alien." According to Pevsner, the chapel is 193' long, and the tower is 163' high, making it an important landmark in this part of the city (153).
A view of the interior of St John's College Chapel is available on the St John's College site, under the heading of "The New Chapel."
Other Views and Related Material
- The porch of St John's College Chapel
- The apse of St John's College Chapel from St John's Street
- The Sainte-Chapelle, Paris, restored c.1841-67
- The interior of the Sainte-Chapelle, Paris
Kottman, Manfred. Baedeker's Paris. English Language ed. Norwich: Jarrold & Sons, 1987.
Pevsner, Nikolaus. The Buildings of England: Cambridgeshire. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2nd ed. 1970.
Taylor, Kevin. Central Cambridge: A Guide to the University and Colleges. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
Last modified 13 August 2008