On behalf of the parish of Great St Mary’s, we would like to wish you a very warm welcome. For over eight centuries we have been a place for young people to bring their curiosity, their questions and their aspirations. We hope your visit to our church buildings will not only help teach your students about the religious history of Cambridge, but also inspire them to think more deeply about the role of faith communities in our diverse contemporary society. Your visit with us is an important part of our outreach and we hope you feel very welcome at Great St Mary’s.
Canon Adrian Daffern, Vicar of Great St Mary’s
Education at Great St Mary’s
Through our education programme at Great St Mary’s we hope to offer our visitors an insight into our special building, the worship that takes place here and opportunities for creative RE, History and art & craft sessions. We hope this section will give you all the essential information that you need in order to plan a successful visit. Sessions are led by the Education Officer Becky Auty, who is an experienced teacher, alongside a team of volunteers many of whom have a background in teaching. Members of the clergy may be available by request.
About Great St Mary’s
Great St Mary’s has been at the heart of Cambridge for over 800 years, and has been the University Church since 1209. Together with Michaelhouse, Great St Mary’s is a thriving Christian community in the Church of England with a strong musical tradition and a rich heritage. Services are held throughout the week as well as on Sundays, and last year we welcomed over 100,000 visitors from all around the world.
Booking Your Visit
Do I need to book my visit?
All school and learning group visits must be booked via the Education Department. Please contact Becky Auty, the Education Officer, to discuss your requirements and book a session. Groups may also book a self-guided visit using educational resources on any week day. The best way to book is by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or phone on 01223 747284. Please book as early as possible to avoid disappointment.
We offer a range of self-guided visits, trails, guided tours, workshops and craft sessions. Please see our primary school, secondary school and language school pages. Our visits cover a range of themes including Religious Education, History & Heritage and art & craft.
How many students can I bring?
Our sessions can be designed for individual classes or you could have a carousel of activities for a larger group. We can advise on other local attractions to accommodate particularly large groups or help you to arrange visits in conjunction with King’s College Chapel or other local museums. For seated sessions such as lectures or debates, the church seats 400 downstairs.
We will discuss numbers and plan your visit with you when you make a booking enquiry.
How much does it cost?
Some of our RE sessions are free of charge to UK schools thanks to funding from the Church Schools of Cambridge Trust. We ask for a small charge for tours, History and art and craft visits. Do get in touch with the Education Officer for details of session costs.
Climbing the tower costs £2.50 per student for UK school groups aged under-16 and £3.50 per student for groups aged over 16 (teachers are free).
In exceptional circumstances, Great St Mary’s may need to altar or cancel your visit. If for any reason the church finds it necessary to cancel a school booking then an alternative date will be arranged as soon as possible. We apologise if any parts of the church are inaccessible at the time of your visit. The Tower will be closed in the event of heavy rain as it would be unsafe for visitors to climb the steps if they are slippery.
Great St Mary’s is open to the general public and we do not have any private or purpose-built spaces for educational use in the main church. This means that sessions at Great St Mary’s take place in the main body of the church, alongside other visitors. More private workshops can take place in either St Andrew’s Chapel or the St Michael’s Church Chancel at the Michaelhouse Centre just a short walk along the road. Please make us aware well in advance of any students or group leaders with additional needs so that we can help your visit run as smoothly as possible.
Where do we come on arrival?
Come to the shop where you will be met by the Education Officer. Please ensure that you arrive promptly.
What if we are late?
If you are running late please telephone and let us know: call 01223 747284 (Education Department) or 01223 747273 (Parish Office). We will do our best to adapt and accommodate your visit to the time available if you arrive late, but this may not always be possible if leaders are not available or the Tower or church has been booked by another group.
Are there any rules that students should know about?
Great St Mary’s is a busy historical attraction as well as a sacred place of quiet prayer and worship. In order to make sure that all visitors and worshippers can enjoy their visit to the church, we ask group leaders to remind pupils in advance that they are visiting a special place. The St Andrew’s Chapel is reserved for a place of quiet prayer.
We ask students to respect everyone’s needs and stay safe in the church by walking, rather than running, talking quietly, rather than shouting and listening to the session leaders and one another carefully. We ask groups to be aware of other visitors to the church and avoid causing bottlenecks by leaving room for others to pass by.
Food and drink should not be consumed in the church unless with prior arrangement and we ask visitors to keep mobiles on silent and avoid taking calls inside the church, although you are welcome to use phones to take photographs without flash. As Great St Mary’s is open to the public we ask students and teachers to keep their personal belongings with them at all times.
Do we need to bring anything with us? We recommend that secondary age students bring a pen or pencil with them. We can provide clip-boards for all students and pencils for primary age students.
To assess the quality of the visit we ask that all teachers complete an evaluation form after their visit.
Facilities and Access
How do we get there?
Great St Mary’s is located on Senate House Hill, between the Senate House and Cambridge market square. Our postcode is CB2 3PQ. Follow this link to view the church on Google Maps. The city centre immediately around Great St Mary’s is pedestrianised during the day. Most school groups from Cambridge either walk in to us, or take public transport to the city centre.
There are no parking facilities at the church. If you are arriving by coach, there is coach parking on Trumpington Road by the Fitzwilliam Museum, on Chesterton Road, or on Queens Road. All of these are a short walk from Great St Mary’s and we can provide resources to help you notice local landmarks on the way.
Do you have toilet facilities?
We don’t have the facilities for group toilet visits within the church so please ensure that your group has visited the toilet before they arrive. The nearest public toilets are in the Lion Yard just a short two minutes’ walk away. A map is available to download from this page. We have one accessible toilet.
Where can we eat lunch?
Weather permitting, packed lunches can be eaten on the grassed areas in the churchyard. In the case of inclement weather, and subject to availability, students may be able to eat lunch in the church- please contact the Education Officer to discuss availability. If eating in the church we request that students bring only water to drink and staff help keep the lunch area tidy.
Is the church accessible?
There is level access to the ground floor of the church and an accessible toilet is available. A hearing loop is installed in the nave. Unfortunately there is no lift available to access the galleries or tower, which are reached up long flights of stairs. The raised area around the altar is reached up two steps, and the door of the St Andrew’s Chapel is narrow, so these areas are not accessible for wheelchair users.
Can we visit the shop?
If your students would like to visit the shop, please let us know. We can also offer pre-paid goody bags with small souvenirs of the church by prior arrangement.
Can we take photographs?
You are welcome to take photographs without flash. It is very helpful for us to have photographs of school visits so, if you have the necessary permissions from families, we would be grateful if you could share some photos of your visit with us for use in funding reports and promotional material.
Health and Safety
Supervision of students
Teachers and helpers should stay with their group at all times. At all times during the visit, teachers (and helpers) will, of course, be responsible for the control and supervision of their group. We ask that all schools provide a ratio of at least 1 adult: 10 children or the statutory ratio, if this gives a higher proportion of adults. For groups of less than ten climbing the Tower we ask for at least two accompanying adults and for groups of ten or more we ask for at least three accompanying adults. No pupils are to be left unsupervised in any area at any time. Please ensure accompanying adults are fully briefed prior to the visit.
Do you have a risk assessment we can use?
You will need to complete your own risk assessment in response to the needs of your group, but we do offer a sample risk assessment, available to download on this page, which you can adapt to suit the specific requirements of your students.
Members of staff are welcome to make a free preliminary visit to the church to help plan their trip. This would include a free tower climb if this were to be part of the visit.
What do we do if there is an accident?
School staff and accompanying adults remain responsible for the welfare and behaviour of students throughout their visit. Should there be an accident or health incident, please tell your session leader or staff at the shop. We advise you to bring a trained First Aider with you and a portable First Aid kit, as we cannot guarantee that there will be a trained staff First Aider at Great St Mary’s. A small First Aid kit is available in the church kitchen. If an accident or injury should take place, however trivial, please ask us for the accident record book so that we can record it as soon as possible.
Other safety advice:
If you see anything suspicious or dangerous, report it to a member of staff straightaway. If you hear the fire alarm, or an evacuation is announced, evacuate your group via the nearest available exit or as directed by a member of staff.
Information for Tower Climbs
Please note that there are 123 steps to the top of the Tower, up a steep and narrow spiral staircase. Climbing the Tower may not be suitable for those with heart conditions, vertigo, claustrophobia, high blood pressure, angina, conditions which affect breathing (asthma, hay fever, and bronchitis), limited mobility or for women who are pregnant. Unfortunately, no access is possible for people with mobility issues or wheelchair users.
The Tower stairs are narrow and steps may be uneven. All visitors should be advised to use the handrail, go slowly, and give their eyes time to adjust to the relative darkness of the staircase. There are several passing places on the climb.
A maximum of 25 people can climb the tower at any time. At the discretion of Great St Mary’s, this may be increased to 30 for groups of small children.
People under the age of 16 years cannot climb the Tower unless accompanied by a person of at least 16 years of age. There is no lower age limit for children climbing the tower, but the supervising adults are responsible for their safety at all times.
Any school group with over ten children (aged 16 and under) must be accompanied by a minimum of three adults. One adult is to lead both the climb and descent, one should be in the middle of the party and one is to bring up the rear. This is to control the speed of the climb, guide the children in using the handrail and passing places, and to ensure no children ascend/descend the Tower ahead of the lead adult. This arrangement leaves one adult to escort any children down in case they need to leave.
Groups of ten or fewer may climb the Tower with two adults (one front, one back) on the proviso that if anyone needs to be escorted down the Tower the whole group must come down.
At the top of the tower, the slatted flooring is uneven: care should be taken at all times not to trip. Care should be taken when standing on the raised viewing platforms as it is possible to fall from them onto the lower floor level if distracted. Any phones or cameras must be held within the metal safety guards around the tower. Viewing windows are provided but cameras/phones must not be held outside these in case they are dropped onto passers-by on the street below.
If in doubt please visit us beforehand. Climbing the Tower is always at the discretion and risk of the individual group.