St Mary’s OxfordOxford
High Street
Oxford OX1 4BJ
 
 
In the very centre of Oxford is a large medieval church with the formal name of the University Church of St.Mary the Virgin.  St Mary’s is remarkable because it was from here that the University of Oxford developed.
 
The oldest part of the church is the tower built in 1280.  It is open to the public for a fee and provides good views across the heart of the town.  The gothic (1315-25) spire is said to be one of the most beautiful in England.
 
The church is surrounded by University and college buildings and entry can be either from the High Street or via Radcliffe Square.
 
The High Street entrance is through the twisted ‘barley sugar’ columns of an extraordinary baroque (1637) porch which, in part, led to the trial of Archbishop Laud in 1641.  His crime was to erect a statue of the Virgin and Child over the porch.  The bullet holes in the statue were made by Oliver Cromwell’s troops.
 
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History & Interesting Structures
St Mary's stood in the physical centre of the old walled City, and the university grew up around it. In medieval times scholars lived in houses with their teachers and the university had no buildings of its own, so it adopted St Mary's as its administrative centre.
 
The church continued as a parish church, and by the early 13th century it had become the seat of university government, academic disputation, and was awarding degrees.
 
By the 14th century, more and more colleges were being founded.  The expanding university desperately needed more room for its business.  The first university building to be erected was the Old Library.  This small but uniquely important two-storey building was constructed around 1320 on the north-east side of the church.
 
The upper floor contained a small number of books chained to desks and the university’s money chest.  The lower room, which now houses the Cafe, was used by the university's 'parliament'.
 
On the west side of the tower is the Adam de Broome Chapel, added in 1328.  He founded a house now known as Oriel College.  The chapel is furnished as a courtroom where the Chancellor of the University had surprisingly wide jurisdiction: he fixed rents, fined sellers of bad meat, and even sent a scolding woman to prison.
 
The Chancel was rebuilt in 1453 and contains stalls which are a fine example of Late Perpendicular woodwork.  The remains of Amy Robsart, wife of Queen Elizabeth I’s favourite, Lord Robert Dudley, are believed to have been buried in the chancel.  Some say that Robert pushed Amy down the stairs so that he could marry Elizabeth but of course by that time she had decided she would be ‘The Virgin Queen’!
 
The rebuilding of the Nave in the Perpendicular style was completed by 1510 but only a few fragments of medieval stained glass remain.  Although lovely, most of the glass is 19th century.
 
All university business was removed from the church by the middle of the 17th century, but St Mary's remained the place where the university formally goes to worship. At the back of the Nave are the ceremonial throne-like seats that the Vice-Chancellor and Proctors occupy.
 
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Historic Events
During the reign of ‘Bloody Mary’ (Queen Mary I) each of the 'Oxford Martyrs’ was tried in the chancel of St Mary’s before being burned at the stake for heresy.
 
It is worth referring to the article Martyrs' Memorial Oxford in this website.
 
In the 18th century John Wesley, founder of Methodism, often attended the University Sermon in his student days.  As a Fellow of Lincoln College, he preached some of his most stirring sermons before the University in St Mary’s.  Wesley was not afraid to criticize and in 1744 he denounced the laxity and sloth of the senior members of the University.  That was the last time he was asked to preach in St Mary’s!
 
This University church was the centre of the radical ‘Oxford Movement’ in the 19th century.   The current pulpit and furnishings were installed in 1827 together with galleries erected on the north and east walls.  The Nave turned into a perfect auditorium for the many undergraduates who flocked to hear the sermons of a radical new vicar, John Newman.
 
In 1833 John Keble preached a sermon which is considered to have launched the ‘Oxford Movement’. This was an attempt by a group of dons (all clerics at that time) to revive catholic spirituality in the church and University - in this Newman's leadership was central.
 
St Mary’s has played a pivotal role in the establishment of Oxford University and is well worth a visit.
 
Open
Every day 09:00 – 17:00 ( Closes 1 hour later during July and August)
Only open for advertised services on 25 and 26 December - no tourism vsits.
 
The Tower
The tower commands some of the finest views of Oxford's famous skyline. It is worth the climb of 127 steps to make it to the top. The tower opens at the same time as the church except on Sunday when it opens at 11:45.  Last entry is 30 minutes before closing.
 
Admission
There is an admission fee to climb the tower.
 
Disabled Access
Wheelchair users should enter from the High Street.
 
Facilities
Vaults & Gardens Café
Open from 08:00 to 18:00
Serves breakfasts, lunches and Cream Teas.  Coffee and cakes served all day.
Stunning views of the Radcliffe Camera from the Gardens
More information go to Web:  Vaults & Garden Cafe
 
Gift Shop  
Sells postcards, souvenirs, books and Church Choir CDs
 
Contact & Further Information
Telephone  +44 (0)1865 279 111
Mail  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
 
Google Map - St Mary's Oxford