Cambridge Camden Society - Beginnings


The Cambridge Camden Society began in May 1839 as a club for Cambridge undergraduates who shared a common interest in Gothic church design. Its first activities were the collection of information about churches across the island. The amount of knowledge obtained from travellers' visits to and careful measurements of long-forgotten parish churches was immense and led to the publication of A Few Hints on the Practical Study of Ecclesiological Antiquities. This handbook contained "A Blank form for the Description of a Church", which was a checklist of medieval architectural elements one could use to examine a church. This checklist was not only a useful tool for the investigator, but served as a database of knowledge for the society, and was constantly updated with more detailed information sent from country churches. Thus the Cambridge Camden Society amassed an enormous amount of information about medieval parish churches and came to be seen as an authority on religious architecture. Nor was this attribution misplaced. The society's vigour in examining and defining every detail of the medieval church was enormous, so much so that its magazine, the Ecclesiologist published both heated debates about the usage of small slits dubbed "lychnoscopes" that were observed in some churches and an invention called an "Orientator" that allowed one to determine whether or not a church faced exactly East. The motive for these extraordinarily scrutinising investigations was the society's unshakeable belief that man could regain the piety of the Middle Ages by carefully reconstructing them.

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