Our Lady and the English Martyrs Church

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Church of Our Lady and the English Martyrs
Church of Our Lady of the Assumption and the English Martyrs
OLEM east side.jpg
The East side of the church, from Hills Road.
Church of Our Lady and the English Martyrs is located in Cambridge
Church of Our Lady and the English Martyrs
Church of Our Lady and the English Martyrs
Coordinates: 52°11′56″N 0°07′38″E / 52.198768°N 0.127348°E / 52.198768; 0.127348
Location Hills Road
Country United Kingdom
Denomination Roman Catholic
Website www.olem.org.uk
Dedication Our Lady of the Assumption & the English Martyrs
Consecrated 8 October 1890
Relics held Saints Felix and Constantia
Status Parish church
Functional status Active
Architect(s) Dunn & Hansom
Style Gothic Revival
Years built 1885–1890 (by Rattee and Kett)
Length Interior: 48 metres (157 ft)
Number of spires 1
Spire height 65 metres (213 ft)
Materials Limestone (Casterton, Ancaster, Combe Down)[1]
Parish Our Lady and the English Martyrs
Diocese East Anglia
Province Westminster
Rector Mgr Peter Leeming
Director of music Nigel Kerry

The Church of Our Lady and the English Martyrs (OLEM) is an English Roman Catholic parish church located at the junction of Hills Road and Lensfield Road in south east Cambridge. It is a large Gothic Revival church 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 (equivalent to £6.6 million in 2015).[2][3]

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.[3]


After its opening, the church 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.[4]

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 (equivalent to £1.4 million in 2015).[4][2]


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.[4] 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, the tallest in Cambridge, reaches 214 feet (65 m) and can be seen for a distance of several miles.[4]

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.[4]

To bring the sanctuary in line with the liturgical directives resulting from the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), its design and re-ordering was done by Gerard Goalen of Harlow. On 7 April 1973, Charles Grant, the Bishop of Northampton, consecrated the present central altar. The original high altar has subsequently been used mainly for reservation of the Blessed Sacrament.[1]

The church is a Grade II* listed building.[5]


The rectory is immediately to the south of the church and dates from around 1890. It is in the Tudor style, of red brick with stone dressings and a castellated slate roof. It is a Grade II listed building.[6]

Ancient statue[edit]

The church houses a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary which is believed to date from at least the 15th century. Although evidence is inconclusive, 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. Experts disagree over the exact date of the craftsmanship, with the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments dating it as "mid-16th century".[4]


The Choir of Our Lady and the English Martyrs is semi-professional and includes former university choral scholars. A second choir, the Schola Cantorum, sings almost exclusively in Latin, and sings polyphony and Gregorian chant in the weekly solemn Latin Mass.[7]

The organ was built in 1890 by Abbott and Smith to a specification by the composer Charles Villiers Stanford. The organ was renovated in 2002 by Nicholson & Co Ltd.[8][9]

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.[10]


  1. ^ a b c "OLEM History". olem.org.uk. 
  2. ^ a b UK Consumer Price Index inflation figures are based on data from Gregory Clark (2016), "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)", MeasuringWorth.com.
  3. ^ a b Wilkins, Philip S. (1990). Our Lady and the English Martyrs Cambridge 1890–1990. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f Wilkins, Philip S. (1985). Our Lady and the English Martyrs Cambridge (3rd ed.). Glasgow: John S. Burns & Sons. 
  5. ^ "Church of Our Lady and The English Martyrs (Roman Catholic)". Historic England. Retrieved 30 August 2016. 
  6. ^ "Rectory of The Church of Our Lady and The English Martyrs (Roman Catholic)". Historic England. Retrieved 30 August 2016. 
  7. ^ "Choirs and Instrumental". Our Lady and the English Martyrs. 
  8. ^ "The Abbott & Smith Organ". Our Lady and the English Martyrs. 
  9. ^ "The National Pipe Organ Register - NPOR". Retrieved 16 September 2016. 
  10. ^ "Cambridge—Our Lady & Eng Martyrs". Dove's Guide for Church Bell Ringers. 4 June 2008. Retrieved 26 October 2009. 

External links[edit]