Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

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Inside the New Court facing the Chapel

Corpus Christi College is a College of the University of Cambridge. It is notable for being the only college to have been founded by Cambridge townspeople, having been founded in 1352 by the Guilds of Corpus Christi and the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is the second-smallest college (after Peterhouse).



The licence to build an eighth college in the University of Cambridge was granted by Edward III in 1352 to the newly merged guilds of Corpus Christi and St Mary in the parish of St Bene't's. They immediately began the construction of a single modest court near the parish church and in 1356 it was ready to house a Master and two fellows, who drew up the college's statutes. Continuing their studies in theology and canon law, they served as chaplains to the guild.

The college's first couple of centuries saw its wealth increase, which was put on display as part of the Corpus Christi guild's annual procession. This involved parading through the streets to Magdalene bridge, before returning for an extravagant dinner. The parade continued until Henry VIII put a stop to it in 1535.

Corpus is exceptionally rich in silver, but its greatest treasure is the Parker Library, one of the finest and most important collections of medieval manuscripts in the world. It houses the Canterbury Gospels, probably brought to England in 598 AD by St. Augustine, when he was sent by Pope Gregory I to convert the people of Britain.

Christopher Marlowe was perhaps the college's most-celebrated son, having matriculated to Corpus in 1580. Although little is known about his time there, it is often believed that it was during his study for his MA that he began his work as a spy, a claim based on only a single cryptic statement by the Privy Council. In 1953 during renovation of the Master's Lodge a portrait of a man "in the 21st year of his age" was discovered. As the painting is dated 1585, the year Marlowe was 21, it is inevitable that it has been claimed as a portrait of the playwright himself.


Old Court, built in the 1350s, is one of Cambridge's oldest buildings and retains many of its original features, including sills and jambs to hold oil-soaked linen in the days prior to the arrival of glass. The court was possibly built from the core of an even older building and is the oldest courtyard in Oxford or Cambridge (a claim disputed by Merton College, Oxford who say the same of their Mob Quad) as well as, some say, the oldest continually inhabited courtyard in the country.

St Bene't's church next door is itself the oldest building in the city, and served as the college's chapel until one was built in around 1500.

New Court (completed 1827) was designed by William Wilkins, who is buried in the college chapel. New Court is also the site of the Parker Library, which was begun in 1376 and much improved by a bequest from Matthew Parker, the college's Master between 1544 and 1553, who saved many manuscripts from destruction during the dissolution of the monasteries.

There are also several outlying college properties, including the graduate campus of Leckhampton. Here there are playing fields, 9 acres (38,000 m²) of gardens, a swimming pool and some of the best graduate housing in the University.

Oddities, traditions and legends

As with all old institutions, Corpus has many legends, traditions and general oddities. Here is a sampling:

  • In Corpus slang, a bop is called a 'slack'.
  • Corpus owns the Eagle pub (though it is managed by Greene King). Watson and Crick are said to have refreshed themselves in this pub while deliberating over the structure of DNA.
  • The College is said to be haunted by a number of ghosts. Most famous, and feared, is the terrifying apparition of Henry Butts, hero of the plague of 1630, who was hounded to suicide two years later. Another is that of Elisabeth Spencer, daughter of the master, and her young lover (both dead in 1667). Their ghosts are said to walk on Christmas Eve.
  • A college legend, no doubt scurrilous and unfounded, is that Scullion, the head porter in Tom Sharpe's Porterhouse Blue was modelled on the legendary Albert Jaggard, head porter of Corpus Christi at the time the book was written. Jaggard is remembered in a number of legends still repeated in hushed tones in the small hours of the morning.
  • According to student legend, Leckhampton House is the least haunted house in England. Early in its history, the house was home to an enthusiastic experimenter in parapsychology, whose activities are said to have permanently scared off whatever might be inclined to haunt the place.
  • The mathematics society is named "T. Baterby" after the last Corpus recipient of the wooden spoon. The spoon is still in the college's possession.
  • The law society is named after Nicholas Bacon.
  • While the College is known for playwright Christopher Marlowe, its drama society is named the Fletcher Players.
  • The nickname 'Old House' applies to the whole college, but is most often used to designate the main college buildings, as opposed to outlying places like Leckhampton. (eg. "After my morning swim at Leckers, I'm going to eat lunch at Old House")
  • Members of the college often refer to themselves as 'Corpuscles'.

Famous alumni

External link

Colleges of the University of Cambridge Arms of the University

Christ's | Churchill | Clare | Clare Hall | Corpus Christi | Darwin | Downing | Emmanuel | Fitzwilliam | Girton | Gonville and Caius | Homerton | Hughes Hall | Jesus | King's | Lucy Cavendish | Magdalene | New Hall | Newnham | Pembroke | Peterhouse | Queens' | Robinson | St Catharine's | St Edmund's | St John's | Selwyn | Sidney Sussex | Trinity | Trinity Hall | Wolfson


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