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Religious Buildings in Oxford (Self Guided), Oxford

Oxford is home to a great range of sites related to the history of English Christianity. Many churches, college chapels and prayer houses with tremendous architecture can be seen here. Take this self-guided tour to discover the most important religious building in Oxford.
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Religious Buildings in Oxford Map

Guide Name: Religious Buildings in Oxford
Guide Location: England » Oxford (See other walking tours in Oxford)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.8 Km or 1.1 Miles
Author: Linda
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Pusey House Chapel
  • Blackfriars
  • St Mary Magdalen's Church
  • St Michael At The Northgate Church
  • Wesley Memorial Church
  • University Church of St. Mary the Virgin
  • Merton College Chapel
  • Christ Church Cathedral
Pusey House Chapel

1) Pusey House Chapel

Pusey House Chapel stands alongside Pusey House on St Giles’ and is described as one of the loveliest chapels in Oxford.

The house was built in 1884 as a memorial to Edward Pusey, who was a Regius Professor of Hebrew for 46 years and one of the leaders of the Oxford movement. Pusey’s personal library is housed here. The house functions as a religious institution to promote religious life at the University and continues to further Pusey’s beliefs of Anglo-Catholicism.

In 1911 three houses alongside Pusey House were bought and rebuilt to house the Chapel, which is very beautiful, but not really a tourist attraction as it is a working church, although everyone is welcome to visit.

The chapel was designed by Temple Moore in the late Gothic style, with the large east window by Sir Ninian Comper in 1936. Sir Ninian also created the magnificent ciborium over the altar of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. It is considered an example of his best work.

The main chapel is used for daily services where offices are chanted and mass held every day, with music and great ceremony on Sundays. A smaller chapel on the east side is separated from the main chapel by an ornate stone roodscreen.

2) Blackfriars

The history of Blackfriars is as old as Oxford University itself, although the building is new by Oxford standards.

The Blackfriars settled in Oxford in 1221, teaching alongside, but separately from the University colleges emerging around them and with whom they were often in conflict. During the Reformation the friars’ teachings were suppressed and they left the city until 1929.

When they returned, three houses were transformed by Dorian Webb into the Dominican Priory in the late 17th century style, only 600 meters from their original site, forming the Blackfriars you can visit today. The building houses three major institutions and two smaller ones. The larger ones are the Priory of the Holy Spirit, Blackfriars Hall and Blackfriars Stadium.

The Stadium is a Centre for the Study of Theology and Philosophy. The Hall is one of the University’s six Permanent Private Halls. It teaches Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE). It also has a student programme for overseas visitors, teaching English, Classics and British History.

The Aquinas Institute, which bases its programme on the Study of St Thomas Aquinas, opened in 2004. In 2008 the Las Casas Institute opened its doors with a programme on Ethics, Governance and Social Justice. The Blackfriars Library houses over 35000 books on the subjects of Theology and Philosophy.
Sight description based on wikipedia
St Mary Magdalen's Church

3) St Mary Magdalen's Church

The ground on which St Mary Magdalen’s Church stands has been a place of worship for over a thousand years, and you shouldn’t miss a visit to this beautiful church.

The 1st church was a wooden affair which was burnt down by the Vikings in around 1013. In 1074 Robert d’Oyly built a chapel with a single aisle to replace the ruins of the wooden church. The chapel was rebuilt and expanded in 1194 by Saint Hugh, the Bishop of Lincoln. In 1842 George Scott rebuilt the chancel and north aisle.

The interior is Victorian Gothic, softly lit by the sunlight streaming in through the stained glass windows. The lovely West Window depicts the city’s medieval history and was executed in 1898 by Elizabeth Wigram.

The altar dedicated to St Thomas Becket was designed by St Hugh. In 1294 an oratory dedicated to St Catherine was built in the north aisle. The Lady Chapel in the south aisle was built in 1320 by the Carmelites.

The beautifully ornate font was sculpted in 1350; the Holy Water stoup was placed in 1513, the same time that the tower was built. There is an alabaster memorial dedicated to William Pickering that dates back to 1640, next to the north door. The raredos behind the High Altar were executed in 1894. The church’s full peal of ten bells was installed in 2003.
St Michael At The Northgate Church

4) St Michael At The Northgate Church

While you are in Oxford you will certainly visit the Saxon Tower which is the oldest building in the city, but don’t stop there; the tower is attached to the lovely St Michael at the North Gate Church, and it would be a pity visit the tower without exploring the church.

The original church was in the Domesday Book, but today only the tower remains. A part of the church – the chancel, the eastern wall nearest the altar in the south aisle and the south door – date back to the early 13th century.

The stained glass in the East Window of the chancel was also created in the 13th century and is the oldest example in Oxford.

The Lady Chapel was built in the 14th century and the north aisle and the nave were constructed in the 15th century; the font was placed at the same time. The north aisle and the transept were rebuilt by John Plowman in 1883.The church was restored in 1953 after a fire destroyed a large part of it.

Since 1971 it has been the City Church of Oxford, which means that the Mayor and the Corporation of Oxford are expected to worship there. Once a month, the church hosts music recitals and jazz concerts.
Wesley Memorial Church

5) Wesley Memorial Church

It is only natural that Oxford should wish to honour one of its illustrious sons and the Wesley Memorial Church is dedicated to John Wesley who was closely connected with the city.

John and his brother, Charles, were the founders of the Methodist movement and John went on to promote Christianity throughout England, in Ireland and in North America. John was also a keen abolitionist and under his guidance many influential Methodists spoke out against the slave trade.

The church stands on New Inn Hall Street, opposite the site of the Methodist Meeting House where John Wesley preached in 1783. It was built in 1887 in the Gothic style by Joshua Symm from designs by the architect, Charles Bell.

The capitals of the pillars represent 12 different English plants and were carved by Henry Frith. The beautiful window in the East Gallery features English wildflowers and is a memorial to Reverend Maunder who was to be the 1st minister of the new church, but who died before the building was completed.

The second stained-glass window shows the Risen Lord with Simeon and Anna, the third window represents Charity, Faith and Hope, the virtues that John Wesley lived by.

The tapestry on the south side of the Sanctuary was commissioned by the Higman family as a memorial to family members and was created by Pat Russel. The organ, which was installed in 1878, was built by Nicholson’s of Worcester.
University Church of St. Mary the Virgin

6) University Church of St. Mary the Virgin (must see)

The University Church of St Mary the Virgin is the largest parish church in Oxford. It stands on High Street and is surrounded by colleges, which is why it is so popular with the students and professors.

The 1st church was built on this site in 1086 and when the University was founded in the 13th century, it was considered the university’s first building. In 1320 a two storey building was built on to the north side of the chancel; the ground floor was the University’s Convocation House and today it is the Vault Café. The upper floor became the University’s 1st library with books donated by Thomas Cobham.

The church’s Baroque porch was designed by Nicholas Stone. The 13th century tower affords excellent views and is open to the public. The steeple is reputed to be the most beautiful in England.

In 1555 the Oxford Martyrs were tried and condemned in the church. You will notice that a section of the pillar opposite the pulpit is missing. This was cut out to support a small platform where the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer stood when he withdrew his recantation of his Protestant faith, before being taken out and burnt at the stake.

At the end of the 15th and the beginning of the 16th century’s most of the church was rebuilt in the Perpendicular style and only the tower and spire remain untouched, except for the 12 statues – 11 of which were replaced in 1894 by George Frampton.

Into the 17th century the church was used for Graduation ceremonies, until the church officials got fed up with the very un-Christian parties held there following graduation, and had the Sheldonian Theatre built to host the ceremonies.
Merton College Chapel

7) Merton College Chapel

Of all the college chapels in Oxford University, the largest is Merton College Chapel and it is one of the best examples of Early English Period architecture.

The first chapel built for the college in 1266 wasn’t very sound and by 1288 through bad upkeep was almost in ruins. The new church was started in 1290, with the Choir and the huge East Window finished in 1294.

The Quire Walls have 7 pairs of stained-glass windows, 12 of which, including the Annunciation Scene and heraldic glass in the East Window were created in 1296. The other two windows date back to the 15th century and all of them survived the Reformation.

The Crossing and the South Transept were completed in the 14th century; the North Transept and the Great Tower were built in 1450. The Gothic roodscreen and the lectern, which was donated by John Martlock in 1504, were left untouched by King Henry VIII’s Suppression Acts.

In 1655 the roof of the South Transept collapsed and was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren in 1671; the medieval bells were recast at the same time. In 1802 the College Brewery was installed in the Sacristy, but it was removed in 1886 when the chapel was restored and the monuments in the Sanctuary were removed to the Ante Chapel. The beautiful chamber organ, built by Thomas Parker in 1762 was left in place and was restored in 1999.

The chapel served for many years as the parish church of St John as well as the college chapel, which explains its size. There is a door leading onto North Street through which the parishioners entered and two doors opening onto Merton College.
Christ Church Cathedral

8) Christ Church Cathedral (must see)

Christ Church Cathedral holds the rather unique position of being both a college chapel and the cathedral of the Diocese of Oxford. Until the 20th century it was also the smallest cathedral in the United Kingdom.

Its history dates back to before the Norman Conquest when a shrine was built here in memory of St Frideswide, a much-persecuted 7th century priestess who seems to have spent most of her life guarding her chastity from the amorous attentions of King Algar, one of the kings of the Seven Kingdoms of Saxony.

By 1122 the cathedral was part of the St Frideswide Priory, but in 1520 the buildings and lands were confiscated by Cardinal Wolsey who wanted them to build Cardinal College. Five of the bays in the western part of the nave were demolished to build what is now Tom Quad, before Wolsey in his turn was ousted by King Henry VIII who had Christ Church College built on the foundations.

The rest of the cathedral was built in the Perpendicular, or English Gothic, style, with the five bays of the eastern part of the nave, the choir and the tower keeping the original Norman architecture.

The wonderful rose window is in the Botanical style of ten petals around the central glass. Other windows of note are the Becket Window dating back to 1320, which survived the Reformation and the Jonah Window, depicting the City of Nineveh, created in 1632.

The shrine of St Frideswide has been restored and it stands before a beautiful stained glass window with 16 panels that tell the story of her life. If you look closely at the 16th panel, you will see a water-closet, which certainly didn’t exist in the 8th century and is a give-away to the window’s Victorian creation.

The Cathedral Shop, where you can buy souvenirs, books and CD’s among other gift items, is housed in the 12th century Chapter House. While browsing the shelves, take a look at the vaulted ceiling, where you will see 13th century medallions depicting the Saints.
Sight description based on wikipedia

Walking Tours in Oxford, England

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