University Church of St Mary the Virgin

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June, 2016

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This is the largest of the Oxford Churches at the centre of the University area. Its C13th spire with its mass of pinnacles has been described as one of the finest in England.

This has been the university church since the early C13th, being used for lectures and awarding degrees as well as services. The university court met here. The Oxford Martyrs were tried here for heresy in 1555, before being burnt at the stake in Broad Street. The church cafe is in what was the Convocation Room with the University Library in the room above until it moved into the “Bodleian Library.”:
The relatively plain heavily buttressed tower is the oldest part of the church being built in 1280. The ornate spire was added a few years later, along with the Adam de Brome Chapel off the north aisle. His tomb slab minus its brass is in the chapel. This was used as the courtroom with the Chancellor’s throne where he fixed rents, fined sellers of bad meat and sent scolding women to prison. The windows were enlarged in the C16th and the panelling date from the early C18th.

The rest of the church is late C14th/early C15th and is late Perpendicular in style. The south porch on High Street was added in the C17th and is Baroque in style and completely different with its barley sugar columns.

The inside of the church is perhaps less interesting than the outside. Slender columns with pointed arches separate the nave and the side aisles. Above are large, plain glass clerestory windows, separated by empty stone niches with angels holding shields. The stone organ screen was added in 1823 and is in keeping with the rest of the architecture. The organ was installed in 1987.

Running across the west end of the church is a wooden Gallery. The west window was designed by Kempe. It shows the tree of Jesse surrounded by figures from the Bible.

Beneath the gallery is the stall where the Chancellor of the University sits when attending University events. On either side are the Proctor’s seats. Above is the University crest of the open book with the word “Dominus Illuminatio Mea”.

The stained glass window at the end of the south aisle is by Pugin and shows scenes from the life of St Thomas the Apostle.

The chancel is plain with very large perpendicular windows filled with clear glass. A few fragments of Medieval stained glass survive in the top traceries of the east window. The choir stalls are C15th and still have the carved graffiti from choirboys down the years. The wood panelling behind the altar and the altar rail is C17th. The stone niches above are C15th although the statues were placed there is 1933 to mark the centenary of the Oxford Movement.

The Church is open daily from 9-5. It has a small shop and a very popular cafe serving a range of freshly cooked meals and cakes. The post code is SP516062 and the grid reference is SP 516063.

There are more pictures “here.”:


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