Cambridge Ancient and Modern

I spent a sunny Sunday in Cambridge, taking a confirmation service in the grandly Gothic chapel of St  John’s College, and then preaching at a joint college service in the modern masterpiece of Fitzwilliam Chapel – built with lots of yacht-quality woodwork and a huge east window looking out on en even huger tree. In between I wandered Cambridge’s streets, wondering how to navigate the one-way system when I visit Sidney Sussex next week, and spending time at the Fitzwilliam Museum (no relation, as they say – or not a close one), which is a gem. Inside among the exhibits is one of Cambridge’s best and least known cafe-restaurants (where else can you eat your mezze alongside a Barbara Hepworth piece and underneath a hanging one by Anthony Gormley?), and outside on this occasion there was a splendid contrast between the formal facade of the museum and an outdoor exhibition of very modern sculpture. Ancient and Modern.

In fact neither the Fitz museum nor John’s Chapel are as old as they look. The chapel was a Victorian rebuild in fact (you can see the footprint of its predecessor in front of it), built because the old one was too small – just at the point of course when compulsory chapel was in fact abandoned. And Fitz College for all its modernity is full of memories of centuries-old college life, high table and minstrels’ gallery, do-not-walk-on-the-grass lawns and Choral Evensong.

And that’s part of the beauty of Cambridge, and of the C of E too. It’s not Ancient or Modern: it’s Ancient and Modern, and at their best in as perfect a harmony as the college choirs.

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Chapel images: Creative Commons: Stefanfraczek and copyright cambridge2000.com