The Chapter House

Although currently the site of the Cathedral shop, the Chapter House was originally built as a meeting place for the monks of the priory - the circular shape of these rooms provided the proper acoustics to allow everyone to be heard.  It is one of the oldest parts of the college; the current interior was constructed between 1220 and 1240 but masks an even older building, of which the doorway is the most obvious remaining element.  Its red colouring was achieved by exposing the stone to fire and is a brief glimpse of the exceptional craftsmanship that has thrived throughout Christ Church’s history. The door clearly caught the eye of Lewis Carroll, since he used it as the model for Queen Alice’s door in Alice in Wonderland.

The room also houses the Diocesan Treasury of church plate, collected over the centuries. Sadly no plate commissioned for the college before the Restoration survives, for Charles I requisitioned all of the college’s plate to fund his fight against Parliament in the English Civil War. The only surviving items from that period are a prayer book and Bible from the 1630s, said to have been snatched from the hands of the Parliamentarian forces when the city was taken.   Another notable element of the Treasury is the gilt wood funeral mitre and staff used only for the death’s of bishops. They are exceptionally rare items, crafted for the funeral of Bishop Fell in 1686. The mitre and staff were placed on the Fell’s coffin in the Latin chapel of the cathedral where they remained until 1982.  

On the east wall of the room lies a reminder of Wolsey’s grand ambitions for the transformation of the priory into the college. Although Christ Church seemed ambitious enough on its own, Wolsey intended its members to be drawn from a new school in Ipswich which he founded concurrently. When Henry VIII seized Wolsey’s property, he preserved his Oxford college but not the school. The foundation stone of the Ipswich building was thus moved and set into the wall of the Chapter House.