Monday, 4 January 2010

A King's Birth

One of the finest buildings in Britain is the Chapel of King's College, Cambridge. Many people know it as the setting for the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols at Christmas, which is broadcast across the world. We even used their sequence of readings at our 3 Churches Carol Service two weeks ago.
King's was founded by Henry VI as "The King's College of Our Lady and St Nicholas" in 1441, and the famous chapel was added over a period from 1446 to 1531. The architecture is stunning, with the Perpendicular fan-vault roof, the largest in the world, soaring high above the radiant stained glass of the windows inserted 1515-1531. Across the centre stretches the beautiful old oak screen, one of the last adornments, and added, I believe, by Henry VIII.
As you move down the chapel, and pass through the screen you reach the chancel, with its large number of stalls for the celebrated choir and the clergy. Eventually you arrive at the altar at the east end, and there, above it, your eyes fix on Rubens' magnificent painting "The Adoration of the Magi." It's a surprise for many to find out that while this masterpiece was painted in 1634, it didn't arrive at the Chapel (as an anonymous gift or loan) until, I think, the 1960s. Its arrival made some adaptations of the altar area necessary - but I don't suppose you're going to let that get in the way of the offer of a Rubens!
So an image of the Epiphany rests at the centre of what, for me, is one of the greatest buildings in the world. I hope that the thousands who visit the Chapel pause to wonder - as those exotic travellers from the east did - and maybe to worship, before the Babe of Bethlehem.

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