Of outstanding quality by virtue of its collection of medieval and 18th-century survivals, together with 19th-century fittings by many of England's leading church decorators.
St Giles’ continues the Anglican catholic tradition to this day, and seeks to convey ‘the beauty of holiness’. The rich decoration, carved furniture, textiles and glass, all funded by donations, offer a glimpse of heaven to a formerly impoverished part of Cambridge. The interior fittings include works by Kempe, Comper and Wren. There are noted works after Veronese and Michelangelo. The windows in the nave depict a English saints, including Henry VI (holding King’s College Chapel) and the martyred King Charles I. The war memorial by the gate is by the workshop of Bodley and Grade II listed.
In 1092 Hugolina (the wife of Picot, Sheriff of Cambridge) founded St Giles’ in thanksgiving for recovery from serious illness. It was initially served by Augustinian Canons until they moved to Barnwell. The church survived largely unaltered until the early 19th century when it was rebuilt and expanded to accommodate the growing population and the influence of the evangelical revival. The church was extended creating a large auditorium focused on a central pulpit, but many original features were lost.
By 1870, the evangelical clergy had been replaced by members of the catholic revival movement, who regarded the Eucharist (Holy Communion or Mass) as central to public worship. The much-altered Norman church was dilapidated and cramped, so it was entirely rebuilt to designs of Healey of Bradford. It was consecrated on 5 June 1875. The West tower, which was never built, would have been higher than that of the University Library. The central feature of the church you see today is a richly decorated altar. The oldest parts of the original church are incorporated into the new building, including an 11th century arch (now the entrance to the Lady Chapel) and a 12th century doorway.
Until the slum clearance of the early 20th century, Castle End was among the most dilapidated parts of Cambridge. National newspapers claimed that the homes here were filthier than those of Whitechapel. St Giles’ was instrumental in improving the area. Before the advent of the welfare state, the parish provided its own nurse for those who could not pay the necessary fees, housed refugees, ran soup kitchens and provided children with useful after-school activities. St Giles’ proudly continues this tradition of social action.