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History of the Chapel

A Remarkable Religious Heritage

Oriel was the first college in Oxford to be founded in honour of the Virgin Mary (the ‘old college’ to New College). In the sixteenth century Provost Thomas Ware was one of the first to embrace the Protestant Reformation. In the nineteenth century Oriel became famous as the home of both Noetics and Tractarians, groups which made a lasting impact on Church and State. Among its former members are two Catholic saints, St Thomas More and St John Henry Newman. These varied traditions remain part of Oriel’s remarkable community today.

The current Chapel is Oriel’s third, the first being built about 1373 on the north side of the front quadrangle. By 1566, the Chapel was located on the south side of the quadrangle, as shown in a drawing made for Elizabeth I’s visit to Oxford that year. Little is known of these early chapels, though the College records contain references to a ‘high altar’, ‘nave’, and ‘chancel’ and various furnishings. The present building was consecrated in 1641, and despite restorations in succeeding centuries, it largely retains its original appearance. The Chapel was last restored in the 1980s with the assistance of donations from Norma, Lady Dalrymple-Champneys.

St John Henry Newman

John Henry Newman (1801-90) is among the most renowned figures associated with Oriel. He first came to the College as a fellow in 1822, a position he held until 1845. During these years he also served as the College Chaplain (1826-31,1833-35) and as Vicar of the University Church of St Mary the Virgin (1828-43).

Alongside fellow clerics John Keble and Edward Bouverie Pusey, Newman was the driving force behind the Oxford Movement, which sought to reassert the catholic heritage of the Church of England in theology and practice. The trajectory of Newman’s own intellectual and devotional life led to his being received into the Roman Catholic Church in 1845. He went on to render great service to his adopted Church and was made a cardinal in 1879.

Newman was canonised in Rome on Sunday 13th October 2019. He is remembered in the Church of England calendar on 11th August and in the Roman Catholic calendar on 9th October.

The Oxford Movement

Oriel is pre-eminently the college of the Oxford Movement, the first phase of which lasted from 1833-45. The Movement grew out of a desire among certain High Churchmen at the University to reassert the Church of England’s catholic heritage in theology and practice. To this end, its proponents produced the Tracts for the Times, a series of 90 tracts on a wide range of religious subjects. This in turn earned them the nickname ‘Tractarians’.

Besides Newman, other figures of the Movement associated with Oriel were John Keble (1792-1866), E.B. Pusey (1800-82), Robert Wilberforce (1802-57), Richard Hurrell Froude (1803-36), G.A. Denison (1805-96), Thomas Mozley (1806-93), Charles Marriott (1811-58) and R.W. Church (1815-90).

The legacy of the Oxford Movement continues to inform life at Oriel to this day. Among College traditions is to sing the ancient Christian hymn Phos Hilaron (‘Hail Gladdening Light’) on feast days and other special occasions. The translation was produced by John Keble for Lyra apostolica, a collection of sacred poems published by the Movement in 1836.

Newman Oratory and Window

Above the entrance to the Chapel is a small oriel. Until the re-ordering of the Chapel in the 1880s this was not accessible from the Chapel, being a room on the first floor separated from the Ante-chapel by a wall. It formed part of the first floor set of rooms which were occupied by Richard Whately, and later by Newman himself. Whately appears to have used the space as a larder, whereas Newman is believed to have used it for private prayer. When the organ was installed in 1884, the space was used for the blower. In 1991, it was restored to its prior use as an oratory and made into a memorial to Newman.

A new stained glass window was completed and put in place at Easter 2001. The window was designed by Vivienne Haig and realised by Douglas Hogg. In the top section, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the College’s patron saint, is depicted surrounded by angels and flanked by both of Oriel’s founders, Edward II and Adam de Brome. Also visible are the arms of the King, the College, and the University, together with roundels depicting the interior of the University Church and of Newman’s church at Littlemore. Below this sits Newman, also surrounded by angels above exterior depictions of the University Church and Littlemore. On either side are extracts from his writings, reproduced in his own hand. Below Newman are his motto: Cor ad cor loquitur (‘Heart speaks unto heart’), and words from the memorial tablet at his grave: Ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem (‘Coming out of the shadows and reflections into truth’).

Read an essay on the Newman Window by Dr Elizabeth Cumming

further information

Oriel Chapel

History of Oriel

Visiting Oriel