On the western edge of the city and a short walk from the central colleges, this gets fewer visitors and is a lot quieter. There’s the additional bonus that the college is free! The college exterior is austere and gives little indication of what is inside. It is ignored by many unless they have read about the gardens and chapel, which must rank as one of the best in Oxford with its wonderful William Burgess interior. This really is a hidden gem and well worth visiting.
A college for Benedictine monks was founded here in the late C13th. Originally housing 13 monks, numbers grew and they were housed in small cottages. The college was dissolved at the Reformation and the buildings were granted to the Bishop of Oxford.
In 1714 the college was refounded as Worcester College when a Worcestershire baronet left money for the founding of a new college in Oxford. Nicholas Hawksmoor was employed to design the new buildings. Work began on U shaped entrance building with the dining room and chapel joined by the first floor library, which fronts onto Walton Street.
The college is entered through a small courtyard and passageway leading to the neoclassical back of the building.
The row of monks cottages survive along the side of the main quad, and are some of the oldest residential buildings in Oxford. The Georgian north range was built in built 1753-9. Several new accommodation blocks for students were added in C20th.
The chapel with its small dome and classical pillars dates from 1720. It was originally an understated Georgian architecture with a dome and classical pillars. It had a comprehensive makeover by William Burgess in the 1860s and he is responsible for the richly painted walls, mosaic floor, stained glass windows and statues of the four evangelists. It is one of the “best examples”:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Worcester_College,_Oxford#/media/File:Worcester_College_Chapel,_Oxford,_UK_-_Diliff.jpg of his work. Opulent hardly begins to describe it.
Standing in the nave and looking at the entrance is like looking at a Byzantine basilica. This impression is continued to the ceiling with its small dome and plenty of gilt paint. Every surface is covered with paintings and a decorative panel runs round the walls and round the back of the high altar. The Byzantine theme is continued with small icons of Christ and Mary the Mother of God in the corners of the chancel.
The floor is covered with a geometric mosaic pattern with panels depicting early saints.
The stained glass windows depict scenes from the life of Christ and are the only incongruous part of the decoration.
The college buildings are surrounded by 26 acres of grounds, including woodland, lake, orchards and sports fields. Visitors can wander freely. There are attractive flower borders running along the length of the Nuffield lawn and backing onto the old cottages.
The college is open daily from 2-4pm and is well worth adding to the list.
There are more pictures of the chapel “here.”:http:// wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/churches/england/cotswolds/oxfordshire/oxfordcity/worcester/index.html