Peas Hill: Cradle of the Reformation

We were searching for an English bishop and saint in the teachers’ room yesterday – not in person, but in name, for a crossword clue. And someone mentioned Hugh Latimer (1485-1555)

Latimer was the right number of letters, but was disqualified on account of his not being a saint; rather the opposite, since he was altogether of the wrong persuasion for sainthood, being one of the central figures of the English Reformation. He was, however, a martyr of the first water: he was burnt at the stake with Ridley in Oxford (as I relate elsewhere).

Latimer was a fellow of Clare College, and he was a regular preacher at the Cambridge church sometimes known as the cradle of the Reformation, St. Edwards King and Martyr on Peas Hill, where the first openly heretical sermon of the English Reformation was said to have been preached on Christmas Eve 1525 by Robert Barnes, one of a group led by Thomas Bilney which included Latimer’s (Bilney was said to be responsible for Latimer’s conversion). The pulpit the new heresy was preached from is still there, but Bilney, Barnes, and Latimer all burned for their beliefs, sooner or later.

photo: Magnus Manske

photo: Magnus Manske

Peas Hill – probably a corruption of the Latin pisces – was the location of the city’s main fish market before Henry VI razed that part of the city to make room for King’s College. St. Edward’s Passage, which runs between Peas Hill and King’s Parade, would have run down to the river through what is now King’s, hence the name, Hill (any slight eminence in these flat parts merits the name hill). The passage dates from the 13th century (as do parts of the church, the majority however dating from around 1400), so Latimer and Bilney and Barnes would have known it well.

The bishop and saint in question, by the way, turned out to be Wifrid (633-709) – an interesting man in his own right, but one without a Cambridge connection that I can find.