This weekend marks the 500th anniversary of Lady Margaret Beaufort's benefaction of a preachership at the University of Cambridge. A commemoration of the Benefaction will take place at the University Church, Great St Mary's on Sunday (7 November).

The University's Senior Proctor in 1495 was John Fisher. During a meal with King Henry VII's mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, he persuaded her to take an interest in the University, and subsequently became her spiritual guide. By 1501, he had become Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge and he inspired Lady Margaret to share his passion for an educated clergy who would take preaching seriously.

In 1502, Lady Margaret endowed a Professorship, which is the University' oldest Chair. John Fisher was appointed to that chair and was regarded by many to one of the finest scholars of his day, and also a model bishop.

The early part of the 16th century saw great change in the Cambridge clergy. With the leadership of Fisher, Erasmus and Lady Margaret, educational standards amongst the clergy were raised and scholarly study of the bible had increased significantly.

One of the most significant milestones in that process was the benefaction in 1504 of a preachership. It took effect on 31 October that year and provided the preacher with a sum of £10 per year. For that he had to deliver at least six sermons annually in London and elsewhere.

In Lady Margaret's will, she underlined the importance she attached to the preachership she had endowed. She refers to 'One perpetual preacher of the word of God in the said University'.

The University continues to honour the intentions of Lady Margaret by supporting and closely monitoring the academic work of the Cambridge Theological Federation. The Federation enables students to prepare for ordained ministry in an ecumenical context, while remaining rooted in the tradition of their own particular college. It also makes possible the sharing of teaching, library, catering, and other resources. It is made up of seven theological institutions.

Professor Graham Stanton, Lady Margaret's Professor of Divinity, will give the Benefactor's sermon. It takes place at the University's Church, Great St Mary's on Sunday 7 November at 11.15am. All are welcome and members of the University should wear gowns.

Unfortunately, the story did not end well for John Fisher; he fell foul of Henry VIII's policies and was ultimately beheaded in 1535.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence. If you use this content on your site please link back to this page.