The cathedral in Oxford is part of Christ Church College and is integrated into the structure of the college so there is no real way that you can view it as a standalone building. To understand the cathedral you really have to know the history behind the college and its buildings, and it is worth remembering that Christ Church Cathedral is the college chapel.
The cathedral was originally the church of St Frideswide’s Priory and the site was historically presumed to be the location of the nunnery founded by St Frideswide, the patron saint of Oxford.
In 1522, the priory was surrendered to Thomas Cardinal Wolsey, who had selected it as the site for his proposed college. However, in 1529 the foundation was taken over by Henry VIII and work stopped. In June 1532 the college was refounded by the King and in 1546 he transferred to it the recently created “See of Oxford”. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christ_Church_Cathedral,_Oxford)
With that out of the way I would like to show my images of the visit that I made on 23 August 2019. I will make no apologies for my images, these buildings are very difficult to photograph because of their size, varying light conditions, visitors and lousy photographers. I can never do full justice to any cathedral, you really need to see them for yourself. This was my third attempt at a visit and I was finally able to see what lay at the opposite end of the Tom Quad when viewed from the Tom Gate.
To understand how the cathedral fits into that picture you need to remember that what you are seeing from the Tom Gate is the spire and the entrance to the cathedral. As a visitor you cannot waltz through the gate, cross the quad and pop into the door because it does not work like that. Entry is via the Meadow Building which would be on the right hand side of this image but out of shot.
Once you have managed to pass through the entrance doors of the cathedral you are literally in a different world. This cathedral is amongst the smallest in the UK but that does not mean that it somehow lacks in stature and beauty.
The nave, choir, main tower and transepts are late Norman and there are architectural features ranging from Norman to the Perpendicular style and a large rose window of the ten-part (i.e. botanical) type. The area immediately in front of the camera is roped off and your tour begins in the aisle to the left of this image. It is here that you will find the Shrine of St Frideswide.
This knight in full armour from the late 14th century is probably John de Nowers who died in 1386. He was over 6 foot tall and his coat of arms (three golden wheatsheaves) appears on his surcoat. His head is resting on a tilting helm and crest in the shape of an ox and his feet rest on a collared dog.
And naturally I was looking for war memorials and plaques to individual soldiers and the Chapel of Remembrance would be on the left of the image above.
Of course in any cathedral it is very important to not only look around you but to look up towards the ceiling.
The cathedral has a very fine collection of wall and floor memorials, although many are in Latin. These are only a small representation of the memorials.
The Cloister, like the Cathedral, is part of the original Priory of St Frideswide, which stood here before the college was built. Human remains from the time of St Frideswide (the eighth century AD) were found in the central plot. The olive tree (a traditional symbol of peace) and the fountain are contemporary additions to the Cloister and mark the threshold of the Cathedral’s sacred space.
And that is Oxford Cathedral in a nutshell. I am not going to even try explain the whole history behind it because there are many more web resources out that will do a better job. However, I did find an ebook that would be of interest at Project Gutenberg called “The Cathedral Church of Oxford, A description of its fabric and a brief history of the episcopal see” by Percy Dearmer.
The English Visitors Booklet of Christ Church College and Cathedral is also worth reading (PDF Document). I wish I had found a copy of it before I went to the cathedral. The floorplan in this post originated from this pdf as does some of the text.
The cathedral website is at https://www.chch.ox.ac.uk/cathedral
The cathedral is beautiful inside and I am glad I persevered in seeing it. Unfortunately it was jam packed with visitors too so photography was difficult at times. The shop was also packed and I was not even able to get up the one aisle. I did however find a nice guide book about the cathedral in the shop.
DRW © 2019. Created 24/08/2019