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Today I led a walking tour of ‘Catholic Cambridge’ for the Catholic Record Society, at the conclusion of the CRS’s 59th annual conference at Murray Edwards College. Sadly I was unable to attend the conference this year, but I led delegates around the major sites of post-Reformation Catholic interest in Cambridge, beginning with the Dominican Priory of St Michael the Archangel (Blackfriars) and St Edmund’s College. Founded as a hostel dedicated to St Edmund of Abingdon in 1896 by Baron Anatole von Hugel and the 15th Duke of Norfolk, St Edmund’s officially became the University of Cambridge’s only post-Reformation Catholic collegiate foundation in 1998. We were able to view the interesting collection of portraits of the Huddlestone family of Sawston in the college’s Huddlestone room (including a portrait of Fr Huddlestone, who rescued Charles II from the oak at Boscobel and received him into the Catholic Church) and the college’s chapel, which was completed in 1915.
From St Edmund’s we walked down into central Cambridge to Sidney Sussex College, which was the site of James II’s experiment in imposing a Catholic master on a Protestant college in 1686, in the form of Dr Joshua Basset. Basset established a Catholic chapel and appointed a chaplain, the Benedictine Alban Francis, but was ejected and the chapel pulled down in 1688. We then made our way to Gonville and Caius College, re-founded in the reign of Queen Mary by the great Renaissance physician and humanist John Caius, who remained true to the Catholic faith into Elizabeth’s reign. In 1572, a year before Caius’ death, the Vice Chancellor of the University ordered the public burning of Caius’ collection of Catholic ornaments and vestments in Caius Court. We were given a thorough and fascinating tour of the college by one of the fellows, Dr Michael Wood.
Our final stop on the tour was a visit to Fisher House, the home of the Catholic Chaplaincy to the University of Cambridge and the former Black Swan public house. Fisher House has been much renovated since I was an undergraduate (and Treasurer of the Fisher Society) and we were given an insightful and thorough tour of both the old parts of the building and the newest additions (including the completely restored chapel) by the Chaplain, Mgr Mark Langham.
I am very grateful to Dr Wood and Mgr Langham for giving up their time to guide us round their respective domains, and to Fr Alban McCoy, Dean of St Edmund’s, for facilitating our access to the college.