Our Lady and the English Martyrs Church

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Our Lady and the English Martyrs
The Church of Our Lady of the Assumption and the English Martyrs
The East side of the church, from Hills Road.
Our Lady and the English Martyrs is located in Cambridge
Our Lady and the English Martyrs
Our Lady and the English Martyrs
Location in Cambridge
Coordinates: 52°11′56″N 0°07′38″E / 52.198768°N 0.127348°E / 52.198768; 0.127348
Country United Kingdom
Denomination Roman Catholic
Website www.olem.org.uk
Style Gothic Revival
Diocese Diocese of East Anglia
Bishop(s) Alan Hopes

Our Lady and the English Martyrs (OLEM) is a Catholic parish church located at the junction of Hills Road and Lensfield Road in south east Cambridge, England. The large Gothic Revival church was built between 1885 and 1890.[1]


The first post-reformation Catholic church was opened in Cambridge in 1841; St Andrew's Catholic Church (later dismantled and re-built in St Ives) remained the only chapel available for Cambridge Catholics until the construction of OLEM. In 1865, the parish priest Canon Thomas Quinlivan acquired additional adjacent land, but the funds could not be raised for construction. With the aid of the Duke of Norfolk, the entire Lensfield estate was purchased in 1879. The task of raising more funds fell to Quinlivan's successor, Mgr Christopher Scott. On the Feast of the Assumption, 1884, the former ballerina Yolande Lyne-Stephens, widow of Stephens Lyne-Stephens, reputed to be the richest commoner in England, offered to fund the £70,000 construction of a church on the site.[2]

Building work began in 1885 following the plans of architects Dunn and Hansom, and the foundation stone was laid in June 1887. The construction of such a prominent Catholic church, as well as its dedication to the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, caused much controversy among local Anglicans and members of the University. Despite this, and the ill health of Mrs Lyne-Stephens, the church was completed and then consecrated on 8 October 1890. The first Mass was attended by all the bishops of England and Wales except for Cardinal Manning and Bishop Vaughan.[2]


After its opening, OLEM saw a great rise in the number of Catholics in the parish. This was partly due to Fr Robert Benson's reputation as a preacher, as well as Mgr Scott's work as parish priest. OLEM also hosted the 1921 Bible Congress, the greatest Catholic gathering in Cambridge since the Reformation. Between 1922 and 1946, the church was used by the Cambridge Summer School of Catholic Studies.[3]

In a 1941 air raid, a small bomb struck the sacristy, blowing a six-foot hole in the roof and another in the wall of the Sacred Heart chapel. The blast also shattered most of the windows and collapsed part of the organ gallery. The repairs, including replacement windows to the original designs, cost at least £35,000.[3]


The church viewed from Parker's Piece.
Station 6 in OLEM:
Veronice wipes the face of Jezus

The building, one of the largest Catholic churches in the United Kingdom, is designed in the Gothic revival style and follows the traditional cruciform layout.[3] It features a polygonal apse and a central lantern tower. The construction includes Casterton stone for the foundation, Ancaster for the plinth, and the remainder in Combe Down. The interior is constructed in Bath stone, Plymouth marble and Newbiggin stone. The spire reaches 214 feet (65 m) and can be seen for a distance of several miles.[3]

The stained glass windows depict, amongst other things, dedications of Cambridge Colleges and scenes from the lives of English martyrs, in particular St John Fisher.[3] The belfry houses a ring of eight bells hung for change ringing, with a ninth for the Angelus. All the bells were cast in 1895 by John Taylor & Co of Loughborough.[4]

Ancient statue[edit]

OLEM houses a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary which is believed to date from at least the 15th century. Although there is no conclusive evidence, the statue, which was discovered at Emmanuel College in 1850, is supposedly the same statue that Cromwell ordered to be removed on 30 August 1538. However, experts disagree over the date of the craftsmanship, with the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments dating it as "mid-16th century".[3]


  1. ^ "OLEM History". Retrieved 2009-09-15. 
  2. ^ a b Wilkins, Philip S. (1990). Our Lady and the English Martyrs Cambridge 1890–1990. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Wilkins, Philip S. (1985). Our Lady and the English Martyrs Cambridge (3rd ed.). Glasgow: John S. Burns & Sons. 
  4. ^ "Cambridge—Our Lady & Eng Martyrs". Dove's Guide for Church Bell Ringers. 4 June 2008. Retrieved 26 October 2009. 

External links[edit]