Holy Sepulchre, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

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Feature Sets (3)


12thc. circular aisled nave with unlighted gallery and central ribbed dome on a lighted drum. To this is attached a rectangular two-bay aisled chancel, originally of the 13thc. The present appearance owes much to Salvin's restoration of 1841: particularly the chancel, the W doorway, the gallery capitals and the entire drum and dome of the nave, which replaced a 15thc. bell-storey. The church is built of ashlar.


The site was granted by Abbot Reinald of Ramsey (1114-30) to the members of the Fraternity of the Holy Sepulchre, an organisation about which nothing else is known. Such authentic work as remains suggests a date at the end of Reinalds' abbacy.


Exterior Features


W doorway, nave

Round-headed, four orders. Entirely of Salvin's restoration. Water damage has eroded the stone of the outer order and label on the L.

First order: continuous with a fat roll of frontal chevron on the edge with quirks on face and soffit.

Second order: en-delit nook shafts on double scallop bases with hollow neckings. Capitals are sheathed double scallops with square neckings and hollow chamfered imposts with decorated faces - intersecting arches on the L, and saltires on the R. In the arch is a fat angle roll.

Third order: as second order except for the arch, which has point-to-point chevron; a roll and quirked hollow on the face, and a roll on the soffit. On the arris between the points are lozenges.

Fourth order. jambs as second and third orders except that the double scallop bases have wedges between the scallops, base neckings are rolls, capitals are double scallop with a cylinder between the scallops and roll neckings. In the arch is a row of fret between an angle roll and a face roll. There is a plain chamfered label.

h. of opening 2.86 m
w. of opening 1.39 m

Interior Features



Circular arcade

Circular with round columns of coursed ashlar, renewed bases, capitals as described below with plain neckings and chamfered imposts. Piers are numbered clockwise from 1–8 starting from the easternmost S pier and ending with the easternmost N pier. Bays are numbered from (i) to (viii) clockwise, starting at the easternmost bay.

In the arches are three stepped orders, the innermost with a half-roll on the soffit, all except bay (v), opposite the W doorway. This has single-roll centrifugal chevron on the E and W faces, interlocking with a double row of point-to-point chevron on the soffit. This soffit chevron encloses lozenges in a band running along the centre of the soffit.

Pier 1 capital:

Sheathed multi scallop.

Pier 2 capital:

As 1.

Pier 3 capital:

As 1.

Pier 4 capital:

As 1.

Pier 5 capital:

Broad multiple flutes with a scalloped upper edge.

Pier 6 capital:

Multi scallop with wedges between the scallops.

Pier 7 capital:

Fine multiple flutes with a scalloped upper edge.

Pier 8 capital:

Multiple roll chevron design.

Wall passages/Gallery arcades


Nave gallery

Of eight bays divided by round piers above the main nave arcade piers. These have attached half-shafts on either side whose capitals carry the arches of a double opening. Each bay's double opening has an enclosing arch of two square orders and a double chamfered label, and a central colonnette with a capital. Some of the ashlar in the lunettes is diagonally laid. The main pier capitals have three stepped orders on either side, the first corresponding to the half-shafts of the bay opening, and the second and third to the two orders of the enclosing arch. Both the treatment of the carving on the orders and the carved forms themselves owe more to the 19thc. than the 12thc. Capitals have plain chamfered neckings and hollow chamfered imposts.

Colonnette capitals:

These are tall with chamfered neckings and hollow chamfered imposts. All are 19thc. but described below.

Bay (i): volute capital.

Bay (ii): chevron and drilled bead type (as dome vault rib 7).

Bay (iii): on each face a triple pointed arch with angle rolls and rolls below the arches.

Bay (iv): trefoil scallop with a semicircular bite taken out of the bottom of each shield, and each shield defined by a roll. The angles of the capital have conical rolls.

Bay (v): triple scallop.

Bay (vi): A form of triple scallop with hyphenated, keeled scallops.

Bay (vii): cushion.

Bay (viii): as bay (vi).

Pier 1 capital:

On the R a multi scallop form with cylinders between the scallops, on the L the main scallops disappear and only the cylinders remain.

Pier 2 capital

On the L, multi fluted, and on the R multi scallop with fat cones between the scallops.

Pier 3 capital:

Multi fluted.

Pier 4 capital:

Sheathed multi scallop.

Pier 5 capital:

The central section, corresponding to the second order of the enclosing arch on either side, is decorated with the dovetail ornament with drilled beads in the fields. All other orders have cushion capitals.

Pier 6 capital:

Triple scallop with wedges between the scallops in the central section; other orders have cushions.

Pier 7 capital:

Sheathed multi scallop. The inner order on either side has plain cushions.

Pier 8 capital:

To the L multi scallop, the scallops alternately fat and thin; to the R a bizarre variety of sheathed multi scallop where the sheathing extends right to the shields of the scallops.

Vaulting/Roof Supports


Nave aisle

A tunnel vault divided into quadripartite bays by transverse arches of various profiles rising from the imposts at the back of the nave arcade piers and falling onto half-round responds with 12thc. capitals. The diagonal ribs are plain and square in all bays except (i) and (ii). Here they are decorated with two rows of frontal soffit chevron (quirked rolls) separated by a half roll. The arrangement of the diagonal ribs is unusual in that they do not fall on the same respond capitals as the transverse ribs, nor anywhere near them. Instead they rest on 19thc. corbels to L and R of the respond capitals, and linked to them by sections of chamfered string course. The diagonal rib corbels are clearly not original and are not described, although they all appear in the photographs.

Respond 1 capital:

Half-round arch profile. Triple scallop capital with hollow chamfered impost.

Respond 2 capital:

Square arch profile. Cushion capital with triple wedges at angles. Hollow chamfered impost with overlapping rings on the face.

Respond 3 capital:

Square arch profile. Triple scallop capital with wedges between the scallops. Hollow chamfered impost with a quadrant roll below the face, which is decorated with a row of lozenges.

Respond 4 capital:

Half-round arch profile. Double scallop capital with triple wedges between the scallops. Hollow chamfered impost with a row of hollow lozenges on the face.

Respond 5 capital:

Half-round arch profile. Quadruple sheathed scallop capital. Hollow chamfered impost with a row of chip-carved saltires alternating with pellets on the face.

Respond 6 capital:

Square arch profile. Double scallop capital with angle tucks. Hollow chamfered impost.

Respond 7 capital:

Half-round arch profile, capital as 5 but with a plain hollow chamfered impost.

Respond 8 capital:

Half-round arch profile. Double sheathed scallop capital with plain hollow chamfered impost.


Central dome

An eight-part ribbed vault with square section ribs carried on capitals at the level of the top of the drum. These capitals are supported by attached round shafts on corbels immediately above the imposts of the main gallery pier capitals. The corbels, in the form of human heads, are clearly 19thc. and are not described, but all appear in photographs. The upper capitals, which have no impost blocks, are more convincingly 12thc. and are described below. Ribs are numbered to correspond with the gallery and nave arcade piers immediately below them.

Rib 1 capital:

Multi fluted capital with scalloped upper edge to fluting.

Rib 2 capital:

Triple scallop capital.

Rib 3 capital:

Quadruple sheathed scallop capital.

Rib 4 capital:

Double scallop capital.

Rib 5 capital:

Cushion with triple wedge at angles.

Rib 6 capital:

Double scallop with tucked wedge between the scallops.

Rib 7 capital:

W-shaped chevron roll on main face with drilled pellets in the fields (as gallery colonnette bay (ii)).

Rib 8 capital:

As rib 6 capital.

Interior Decoration

String courses



Very little of this sculpture is authentic work of the 12thc., probably only the nave arcade capitals and the capitals of the aisle vault responds (though not the corbels of the diagonal ribs). Perhaps the main interest of the building for the historian of sculpture is in the range of pseudo-Romanesque forms used in Salvin's restoration and enthusiastically approved by the Cambridge Camden Society.


  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Cambridgeshire, Harmondsworth 1954 (2nd ed. 1970), 230-31.

Exterior, view from NW.
Church Plan


Site Location
National Grid Reference
TL 449 588 
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Cambridgeshire
now: Cambridgeshire
medieval: not confirmed
now: Ely
now: Holy Sepulchre
medieval: Holy Sepulchre
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Ron Baxter