A couple of months ago I spent a day in Great St Mary’s church doing a Come and Sing St John Passion. The conductor told us that both Erasmus and Calvin had preached in the church which was intriguing to me. Later I looked into this and learnt that the Reformation leader, Martin Bucer, also had strong connections with the church and Cambridge.
Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536), the famous Renaissance humanist, spent a few years in Cambridge at Queens’ College from 1511-1514. He was persuaded to come to teach Greek by John Fisher, the then University Chancellor, and was later elected to the post of Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity.
Erasmus and Cambridge : the Cambridge letters of Erasmus contains translations of 31 letters surviving from this time and is a good source for finding out more about his brief stay.
The University Library has more than 1000 volumes by him, over 400 of which were published in his lifetime. One important and popular work was Moriae encomium (In Praise of Folly), a satirical attack on theologians, superstition and the abuse of doctrine in the Church. The title was also a pun on the name of his friend, Sir Thomas More. The Library has two copies of the first edition published in 1511.
John Calvin (1509-1564) was a hugely important figure of the Protestant Reformation. I have not been able to corroborate the story of him preaching at Great St Mary’s but as someone known to Martin Bucer, it seems likely that he would have visited. The Library has over 400 volumes by him, around 50 of which were published in his lifetime including several 16th century editions of his magnum opus Institutio Christianae religionis. One interesting small volume in our collections is A chort instruction for to arme all good Christian people agaynst the pestiferous errours of the common secte of Anabaptistes published in 1549.
Martin Bucer (1491-1551), another important figure of the Reformation, was Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge for a short time until his death. Bucer’s time in Cambridge was well covered in a Special Collections blog post in April. In 1550 he wrote De Regno Christi directed at King Edward VI in which he encouraged the king to take control of the English Reformation. Unfortunately, this work was only published posthumously in 1557, four years after the king’s death.
Upon Bucer’s death the funeral sermon was preached by Matthew Parker and the Library is fortunate to have a printed copy of this from 1551.