Christ Church College was first founded as Cardinal College by Cardinal Wolsey, but he fell out of by King Henry VIII’s favour in 1529, and it was re-founded in 1546 by the king as Christ Church. The Tudor dining hall in the college was built at this time.
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Long before the dining hall and the steps up to it were made famous by the Harry Potter films, Christ Church was visited by royalty. Charles I lived here during the English civil war (1642-1646) and held parliament in the great hall. Elizabeth I visited to watch a play. Lewis Carroll taught mathematics at the college, and it is said his books were inspired by the place. Other famous students included John Locke, Robert Hooke, John Wesley, Robert Peel, and William Gladstone.
Christ Church College’s great quadrangle (Tom quad) is the largest in Oxford. The Tom tower was designed by former student Sir Christopher Wren in 1682. Its bell, great Tom, gives its name to the quad and tower. It is rung at 9pm in honour of the original 100 + 1 scholars. The college has two libraries and common rooms as well as accommodation and a sports ground.
Christ Church College is home to the Romanesque style cathedral which was built in the 12th century on the site of an 8th century Saxon Church, founded by Saint Frideswide, Oxford’s patron saint. His shrine and tomb are located in the Latin chapel. Originally built in 1289, it was destroyed in 1538 during the Reformation. Today’s visitors see a re-construction, based on the discovery of fragments in the college in the 1870s and when the cloister was excavated in 1985.
The church first served as the monastery church for Augustinian Canons. It was a stopping place for pilgrims in the middle ages. Just before the dissolution of the monasteries the priory was closed and the church became, under Henry VIII, Christ Church, a cathedral for the diocese of Oxford. The monastery buildings became the college.
On a tour of the cathedral there are a number of important items to note, one of which is the chancel vault ceiling, built c 1500 and made up of 12 lantern shaped pendants suspended in mid-air and tiny ribs of stone, known as 'liernes', that intersect along the centre of the vault creating large eight-pointed star shapes.
Among the treasures of the cathedral is a rare Thomas Becket (Henry VIII ordered most images of the saint to be smashed) stained glass window, located in the Lucy chapel. However, his head was removed to save the window, and a piece of plain pink glass now serves the purpose. In the Latin chapel are 14th century windows of a number of saints, including St Frideswide, standing under canopies. There are 19th century windows by Edward Burne-Jones.
Among the memorials are Royalist monuments in the Lucy Chapel of lawyers, soldiers, and an ambassador who fought for Charles I in the Civil War. There are tomb chests in the north and south aisles and transepts. The north transept ones include Prior Alexander Sutton (c.1316) with a canopy over it, Lady Elizabeth Montacute (d.1354) and Sir George Nowers (early 15th c.). A south aisle monument is to Robert King, last abbot of Osney and first bishop of Oxford (d.1557) The Chapel of Remembrance contains memorials for the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. The memorials to Christ Church men who fell in the First and Second World War are on the walls of the main entrance porch to the Cathedral.
The memorial garden was laid out in 1926 to commemorate college members who died in World War I. Beyond the garden lies Christ Church meadow.
Christ Church College and Cathedral
St Aldate's, Oxford
Tel. 01865 276492 for visitor information
Open: except Christmas day; Mon-Sat, 9.30am-5.30pm; on Sun from 1pm; last entry 4.30pm. Entry fee charged. For times of church services visit the website.
Web: Christ Church