Sunday, January 29, 2012

New Sunday Series: "Our Lady and the English Martyrs"

Last year I dedicated quite a few posts to English churches from before the Reformation and the saints and shrines they featured. Now I am changing the Sunday Shrine series to focus on English "RC" churches built after Emancipation and Restoration that are dedicated to or feature shrines to the Catholic Martyrs. I'll start today with a series of posts on churches named for "Our Lady and the English Martyrs" beginning with the parish church of that name in Cambridge, aka OLEM:

The Church of Our Lady and the English Martyrs, or OLEM, is situated in the heart of the city of Cambridge. An imposing example of the 19th Century Gothic Revival, it was built to the designs of Dunn & Hansom of Newcastle between 1885 and 1890, and founded solely by Mrs Yolande Marie Louise Lyne-Stephens, a former ballet dancer at the Paris Opera and Drury Lane, London, and widow of a wealthy banker. She promised to build the church on the feast of Our Lady of the Assumption, and Monsignor Christopher Scott - the first Rector - also wished to commemorate the Catholic Martyrs who died between 1535 and 1681, over thirty of whom had been in residence at the University.

Designed by architects Dunn and Hansom of Newcastle and built by the Cambridge firm of Rattee and Kett , OLEM is constructed in Casterton, Ancaster and Combe Down Stone. The church is a traditional cruciform structure in the early-decorated style with a large tower at the crossing, a polygonal apse and a west bell tower with a 65-metre spire, visible for miles around Cambridge. Quite often, it is quoted by visitors and local residents as a location point. The approximate internal dimensions of the church are: length 48 meters [156 ft] width across the aisles 16 meters [51 ft] width at the transepts 22 meters [71 ft], the height of the nave 15 meters [71ft].

Inside and over the west door stands the figure of Our Lady of the Assumption crowned with lilies and standing on the crescent moon with the vanquished serpent beneath. The west window shows the English Martyrs arranged in two principal groups, the clergy on the south side with St John Fisher in their midst and the laity on the north grouped round St Thomas More. . . .

The aisle windows were almost completely destroyed when the church was struck by a bomb on 1941, but were subsequently replaced in their original form. They epitomise the various sufferings of the English Martyrs, their being brought before the Council, racked, hung, drawn and quartered in the sight and sympathy of the faithful. The windows of the north aisle portray Carthusians, St Thomas Moore (sic), B. Margaret Pole and others, while the south aisle is made a “Fisher Aisle”, devoted to scenes from the life of St John, Cardinal Bishop of Rochester, who in so many important ways is identified with Cambridge.

Here are some photos from a Flickr photographer, focused on the stained glass windows.


  1. There is another famous but little known pre Reformation church dedicated to Our Lady Queen of Martyrs.
    It is located in Chideock, Dorset and, during the Reformation it was the base for 8 priests and laymen who would be martyred for the Faith.
    It is quite the most beautifully preserved piece of baroque art (and primitive frescos) in Great Britain.
    Sadly, little used today.

  2. Ah now, Richard, you're stealing my thunder! That church is in the queue--thank you for mentioning it.

  3. As it so happens, I happen to be reading Joseph Pearce's The Quest for Shakespeare, which pulls together all the evidence that Shakespeare was actually a Catholic. In the book he summarizes the perils and martyrdom of many Catholics during Elizabethan and Jacobian times. If any Catholic is interested in Shakespeare, I recommend this outstanding book. I found got it off Amazon.

    I'll have to stop by and read your blog.