The Cathedral stands on the site of an ancient Saxon Church, founded in the 8th century by Saint Frideswide, the Patron Saint of Oxford. Though nothing now remains of this church, a saxon cemetery lies under the cathedral cloister, discovered in 1985.
The present building was constructed in the last quarter of the 12th century as the monastery church for a community of Augustinian Canons.
The monastery was called St Frideswide’s Priory, and inside the church stood an ornate shrine on which were kept the relics of the saint. Pilgrims visited the shrine throughout the Middle Ages, including Catherine of Aragon, who, in 1518, came to pray for the birth of a son.
In 1524, just prior to the General Dissolution of the Monasteries, Cardinal Wolsey gained permission from the Pope to close down St Frideswide’s Priory in order to use the land to build a vast new college for the university. He had planned to include a new chapel for his ‘Cardinal’s College’ but died before the building was completed so the old monastery church was retained. When, in 1546, Henry VIII moved the first Bishop of Oxford into the church, he created a unique institution, ‘Christ Church’, for it’s chapel is also the Cathedral for the Diocese of Oxford.