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The History of Christ Church

Foundation

Christ Church was originally founded by Cardinal Wolsey as Cardinal's College in 1524. The college buildings took over the site of St. Frideswide's Monastery, which was suppressed by Wolsey to fund his college

The monastery dated back to the earliest days of Oxford as a settlement in the 9th Century AD. When Wolsey fell from power in 1529 the College became property of King Henry VIII. Henry re-founded the College in 1546 and appointed the old monastery church as the cathedral of the new diocese of Oxford. The new institution of cathedral and university college was named Aedes Christi, which is rendered in English as Christ Church. It is due to its ecclesiastical function that Christ Church's principal, the Dean, is always a clergyman.

Vaulting over South Window, Christ Church hall. Photo: Ralph Williamson

Completion

During the English Civil War (1642-1646) King Charles I lived at Christ Church. He held his Parliament in the Great Hall and attended services in the Cathedral. After the war and the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, the College was rewarded for its loyalty to the House of Stuart by being able to raise enough money to complete the main quadrangle (Tom Quad).

A former student, Sir Christopher Wren, was commissioned to design a new bell tower in 1682, which houses the bell, Great Tom, from which the tower and the quad get their names. 

The Dean who supervised this work, John Fell, was an unpopular man inspired the famous verse, "I do not love thee Dr Fell; The reason why I cannot tell; But this I know and know full well, I do not love thee, Dr Fell".

Christ Church from Meadow Building, looking North. Photo: Ralph Williamson

Sitting right in the heart of Oxford but bounded by its Meadow and the Rivers Cherwell and Isis, Christ Church is architecturally stunning. The Cathedral is a Romanesque gem and is entered from Tom Quad (the largest in Oxford and Wolsey’s work). Christopher Wren’s Tom Tower is the college’s most famous feature and an Oxford landmark. Striking additions in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries complete what is not simply a panorama but a place for living and working.

Famous Students

Christ Church has had many students who have subsequently gone on to achieve considerable fame. Among these are the philosopher John Locke, religious leaders John Wesley and William Penn and the writers W.H. Auden and Lewis Carroll. Albert Einstein studied at Christ Church briefly in the 1930s. The College also has a close connection with government. Christ Church has produced 13 Prime Ministers and numerous Cabinet ministers, Bishops and civil servants.

Eros and Aphrodite, 3rd C Asia Minor. Photo: Ralph Williamson

The House's most celebrated political alumnus is William Gladstone who was Prime Minister 4 times during the 19th Century. More recent members include the comedy writer Richard Curtis and the composer and broadcaster Howard Goodall.

Christ Church Today

Christ Church today is a busy academic community with many more students (about 450 undergraduates and 150 Graduates) and many more academic subjects being studied than was the case in the 16th century. Since 1980 Christ Church has been co-educational, admitting women, who now make up half of the student body. 

 

The dual life of church and college continues to complement each other after 500 years, forming a unique community in the centre of Oxford.

To find out more about the history of Christ Church please click on the link below to download Christ Church History - pdf prepared by the College Archivist.

You can also find more info on wikipedia.org

 

 

The Cardinal's College: Christ Church Chapter and Verse', by Judith Curthoys

Published in March 2012, this is the first new full history of Christ Church since Henry Thompson's 1900 contribution to the College Histories series. Drawing heavily on the material in the college and cathedral archives, the book is an account of the foundation, the administration, the teaching, and the lives of the scholars who have lived and worked at Christ Church. 'The Cardinal's College' is available through selected bookshops, on Amazon, and through the college's website by clicking here.

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