Corpus Christi College

Cambridge, United Kingdom | C.1352

Photo Credit: Kilian Müller

During the 14th century, the Black Death, tore through Europe, Asia, and North Africa killing millions. While it left a deadly mark on the world’s population, the experience also influenced many facets of Europe’s surviving societies, including the founding of Corpus Christi College at the University of Cambridge.

In response to the plague, city guilds began emerging in the United Kingdom. In 1349, the Guild of Corpus Christi was formed with the purpose of providing masses for the dead, spiritual services for surviving members, and to train new priests. The Guild later merged with the Guild of the Blessed Virgin Mary, also been severely effected by the plague, and together applied to King Edward III for a license to open the College.

After the license was granted, the Guild immediately began construction on a single court. Within four years, the court was completed and the College’s statutes were drawn up. The two Guilds then merged with the College which acquired its lands, ceremonies, and revenues. As tradition, the College adopted the annual Corpus Christi procession, an extravagant street parade celebration which continued until the 16th century.

Although relatively poor in its early years, the College soon gained prominence within Cambridge and is now one of the more academically successful institutions. It’s most celebrated alumnus is Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe. Known for his works “Tamburlaine” and “Doctor Faustus”, Marlowe enjoyed great fame during his career as a dramatist and poet. It is also said that he collaborated and influenced Shakespeare.

One of the constituent colleges of the University of Cambridge, Corpus Christi College is the sixth oldest college and the only one to be founded by its townspeople. Today, the Old Court, built during the school’s formative years, remains the oldest surviving court in Cambridge.

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