Chemical pollution has severely damaged masonry on the 550-year-old chapel, considered the showpiece of the university, which has launched a pounds 10m appeal to protect it and other buildings from further damage.
Pollution from traffic in the city, one of only four places in Britain where levels of nitrogen dioxide exceed the recommended limit, is also contributing to the erosion of the chapel's ancient limestone.
"It is getting to the point where it is dissolving almost before our eyes. Some areas are particularly bad and you can see where the faces are wearing off the angels," said the chapel's Provost, Professor Patrick Bateson. "We have been constantly restoring the chapel over the years but it's got to the point where even stonework replaced in the last 20 years is starting to dissolve."
There are fears that some of the masonry on the building, which attracts nearly a million people a year, could start to break off because of the deterioration. "All you used to be able to see were the black marks caused by pollution in Victorian times. Now since the chapel has been cleaned all you can see is white marks where the limestone is dissolving completely. At the moment there is no way we can beat the acid rain. We are fighting a losing battle," the professor said.
The chapel, which dates back to 1446, is Britain's third most popular tourist attraction. The fan-vaulting, the carved organ screen, the heraldic carvings and Rubens's painting The Adoration Of The Magi are world famous. Although Cambridge's thriving tourist industry is a big contributor to the pollution, Roger Coey, Cambridge City Council's head of environmental health and pollution, says the problem is a wider one.
"Acid rain is a national issue rather than a local one," he said, adding that it was "very sad that the quality of air in Cambridge has got so bad that it is affecting a building as wonderful as King's Chapel".
Mr Coey is due to meet representatives from the Department of the Environment next week to set up an air quality review.Reuse content