Quoins

“The long-and-short work of the quoins is eminently characteristic.” Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Cambridgeshire

I posted yesterday on the Corpus Clock, located on the corner of Bene’t Street, and mentioned in passing that the church of St. Bene’t’s (a contraction of Benedict) was the St_Benets_exterioroldest standing building in Cambridge (and also the oldest Church in the county). It also used to be the chapel of Corpus Christi College but predates not only the college but also the University by several centuries, and, indeed, the Conquest by several decades.

As with all old buildings of any importance, not all of it is uniformly dated – the building has been added to and damaged and altered over the years – so that only the bell-tower remains of the original Anglo-Saxon structure, and even there, the bell slits are a later addition (1586). You would know it as Anglo-Saxon, however, by its unmistakeable use of long-and-short quoins – quoins being the corner stones of the wall, arranged in alternations of vertical and horizontal.

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The next oldest church in the city centre has very little to do with quoins, being the Round Church, or more properly Church of the Holy Sepulchre, dating from the first half of the twelfth century (1130) and one of only four medieval round churches still existing.

It is modelled (in shape) after the rotunda in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and indeed all round churches, such as the Temple in London, are associated with the various orders set up to defend Jerusalem and the Holy Sepuchre during and between the various crusades. The Round Church in Cambridge seems similarly to have been set up by a group of Austin Friars going by the name of the ‘fraternity of the Holy Sepulchre’, and functioned as a wayfarer’s chapel set at the point where the old Roman Via Devana, running from Colchester to Chester, exited the city.

The Round Church was heavily restored during the nineteenth century after partial collapse, so that not much remains of the original structure – the characteristic doorway (with its colonnettes and crennellated voussoirs, as I read in Pevsner), is almost entirely new stone, as are the windows. But in its general form and details of its interior are authentic and worth a visit, in spite of the fact that there is not a quoin in sight.

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