Sunday, July 29, 2012

King's College Chapel

The must-see place in Cambridge is King's College Chapel.

The west front of King's College Chapel

Detail of the west door

King Henry VI laid the foundation stone of the college in 1441, intending it to be the most magnificent school and chapel in either Oxford or Cambridge. The chapel took almost 100 years to complete, including breaks from construction like the War of the Roses (1455-1485). Many different kings were sponsors of the project, so the college really could be called Kings' College.

The chapel is 289 feet long and 40 feet wide, reaching a height of 80 feet. It is famous for the fan-vaulting, which enables such a large open space and is quite breath-taking.

Fan-vaulted ceiling

Many heraldic symbols are found throughout the church, mostly centered around the Tudors, i.e. the family that wound up with the crown after the War of the Roses. The Portcullis and the Greyhound are symbols of the Beaufort family (Lady Margaret Beaufort was mother of Henry VII). The Tudor Rose incorporates the red rose of the House of Lancaster and the white rose of the House of York (Henry VII married Elizabeth of York, uniting the two families, so the symbolism is especially significant). The Fleur de Lys emphasizes England's claim to be monarch of France (which claim was maintained until George III). The Coat of Arms is the Royal Arms of England. The Dragon of Cadwallader (Wales) is from Henry VII's father. Leopards and Lions have been symbols of the English monarchs since William the Conqueror.

Some of the heraldic symbols

These symbols can be seen almost immediately right over the west doorway.

A greyhound as big as a dragon?!?

Above the door is a splendid stained glass window.

West Window

The windows (with the exception of this one) are 16th century and are all quite glorious.

Above the choir screen is the organ, a gift from Henry VIII that includes his and Anne Boleyn's initial (so it dates between 1533, when they were married, and 1536, when he had her executed).

A glorious organ and more of the ceiling

In the choir area is a lectern with a small figure of Henry VI and some well-carved stalls.

That's a very small figure

Choir stalls

On the eastern wall is a grand stained-glass window featuring the passion and death of Christ.

East Window

Below the east window is the main altar, which is rather simple. It has Ruben's Adoration of the Magi, painted in 1634 and donated to the college in 1961.

Ruben's Adoration of the Magi

Several side chapels are found in King's College Chapel. Toward the front is the Chapel of All Souls, dedicated to members of the college who died in the two world wars.

Chapel of All Souls

The Tomb Chapel has several memorials in it to various college members.

Tomb Chapel

The Whichcote Chapel was interesting for me. It's the only place I've seen with stained glass featuring lots of Greek, more than just the typical alphas and omegas elsewhere.

Whichcote Chapel Greek window

One side of the chapel has a long exhibit describing the history of the church and the various symbols used.

We were a bit sad that we didn't get to see the choir, so we will have to come back again during the school term to hear the famous voices.

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