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This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Handbook to the Cathedrals of England

by Richard John King

published by John Murray, Albemarle Street,
Oxford, 1862

Text and engravings are in the public domain.


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Oxford Cathedral

[image ALT: An elaborately carved arched door flanked by two small round windows. It is the entrance to the chapterhouse of Christ Church at Oxford (Oxfordshire, England).]

 p3  Part I. History and Details.

I. The existing cathedral of Christ Church, Oxford, was originally the church of St. Frideswide's priory, the history of which will be found in Part II. In the year 1522 the priory was surrendered to Wolsey, who had selected it as the site of his new college. Extensive alterations and additions were at once commenced by the Cardinal; but on his attainder in 1529 the foundation fell into the hands of the King, and the works were stopped. Three years later (June, 1532) the college was refounded by Henry VIII. It was again surrendered in 1545; and in 1546 Henry re-established it, and transferred to it the see of Oxford from Oseney. It has retained the name of Ecclesia Christi Cathedralis Oxoniensis given to it in the king's foundation charter; and the ancient church of the prior has ever since served both as the cathedral church of the diocese and as the chapel of the college.

II. The nave, choir, central tower, and transepts (as far as the roofs) are late Norman, and were probably erected during the lifetime of Canutus, the second prior (115‑1180). In the latter year (1180), whilst  p4 the Parliament was assembled at Oxford, the relics of St. Frideswide were translated to the new building, which must at that time have been nearly if not quite completed.​1 The choir, like the nave, has north and south aisles of the same period. A Lady-chapel, adjoining the north aisle of the choir, was added towards the middle of the thirteenth century; and in the first half of the fourteenth, the further addition of the so‑called 'Latin chapel' was made. The roofs of the nave and choir were the work of Cardinal Wolsey.

The cathedral thus contains examples of the various styles from late Norman to Perpendicular. Of these the original Norman work is the most valuable and interesting; but it may safely be said that a careful examination of the entire building — which is the smallest cathedral in England — will repay the visitor, and will disclose many more points of interest than he may at first be prepared to expect.

As printed: "Scale, 100 ft. to 1 in."
In this Web edition: 208 pixels = 100 feet; as in the scale bar below.

[image ALT: The architectural plan of a small medieval church, with a 4‑bay three-aisled nave, a nominal and asymmetrical transept, and a 4‑bay choir, with several attachments including a large square cloister. It is a plan of Christ Church cathedral (Oxford, England).]

III. The only good external view of the cathedral is obtained from the garden of one of the canons' houses [Plate I], (see § XXIII). The west front and the greater part of the nave were destroyed by Wolsey; and the church is now approached through its ancient cloister, the west walk of which was also removed by Wolsey in order to form the staircase leading to the hall of his  p5 college. Before entering the cathedral the visitor should remark the difference of masonry in the wall of the south transept. The upper story, above the cylindrical string-course, is good ashlar work: the lower, in which are round-headed window-openings, now blocked up, is rudely built of rubble. It has been suggested that this lower story belonged to an earlier church, the walls of which were raised by the Norman builders: but the rubble-work was originally covered by sloping aisle-roofs, which have disappeared. The windows, now closed, may have formed the openings of a triforium covering the whole of the aisle, as in other Norman cathedrals, Norwich, Ely, and Peterborough, for example.

[image ALT: An engraving of a small irregularly-shaped Gothic church, surmounted by a massive square tower with a spire. It is a view of Christ Church at Oxford (Oxfordshire, England).]

[image ALT: An engraving of a small arched window with what appears to be a brick coping. It is a window in the central tower of Christ Church cathedral (Oxford, England).]
Window in the Tower.

IV. From the cloister also a good near view is obtained of the central tower and spire. The lower story of the tower, as high as the belfry-stage, is late Norman, of the same date and character as the nave: the belfry-stage itself, and the spire which surmounts it, are Early English. On each side of the lower, or Norman story, the line of the ancient high roof may be seen, rising nearly to the string below the belfry, indicating that the Norman tower served as a lantern to the interior. On either side of the roof-line is a round-headed window, now blocked. At each angle is a circular turret, which is continued through the Early English belfry-stage, but diminished in size, and ornamented with a slender and graceful arcade. Each turret terminates above the belfry-stage in a pinnacle similarly ornamented. These pinnacles are modern;  p6 but are faithful, or, more truly, servile imitations of the ancient ones; of which not only the original features, but those resulting from the wear and tear of six centuries, have been exactly copied. An arcade is carried round the walls of the belfry-stage, the two central arches of which, on each side, are pierced for windows.

The spire itself is traditionally said to be the most ancient in England, and is no doubt one of the earliest. It is octagonal, with circular ribs at the angles; and of the 'broche' form (i.e. it rises from the exterior of the tower walls), like most others of that early period. Its projecting eaves are supported by a corbel-table of pointed arches. In the cardinal faces, near the base, is a single range of projecting spire-lights, much resembling the windows of the belfry-stage. The upper part of the spire, above the lights, was rebuilt at the same time as the pinnacles; but the beautiful finial of foliage with which it originally terminated was not reproduced. The old spire-point was re-erected  p7 in the verger's garden, where it may still be seen (§ XVIII. For the interior of the tower and spire, see § XIX.)

V. The cathedral nave is entered from the cloister, through a porch of late date, with a roof of debased character. The nave originally extended as far as the fronts of the canons' houses in the great quadrangle; and consisted apparently of eight bays. Of the four which remain, two are included within the screen of the choir. Although the remarkable Norman piers and arches at once attract attention, the first impression on entering is unsatisfactory. The diminished nave, the incongruous character of the woodwork, and perhaps the peculiar arrangement of the chapels on the north side of the choir, render the general view confused and inharmonious. The visitor, however, will find his interest in the building steadily increase, as he sets himself to examine the details of its several portions.

It has been suggested that Wolsey's plan for adapting the monastic church to the purposes of his college, was to form the choir and transepts into a long chapel with an ante-chapel, such as those of Magdalen and New College; and to arrange the remaining portion of the nave for divinity lectures and such collegiate ceremonies as required additional space. The whole was to be modernized, and decorated with a magnificence befitting the splendid scale of the Cardinal's foundation. The work was stopped by his fall; but the progress which had been made up to that point is sufficiently clear, and will be pointed out as we proceed.

 p8  VI. The architectural character of the Norman work in both nave and choir is the same; although there are some indications, to be hereafter noticed (§ XI), that the latter is of slightly earlier date. Both, however, are late Norman; and may be safely assigned to the thirty years (1150‑1180) during which Canutus was Prior of St. Frideswide's. The massive pillars of the nave are alternately circular and octagonal. From their capitals, which are large, with square abaci, spring circular arches with well-defined mouldings. These are, in fact, the arches of the triforium; which is here represented by a blind arcade of two arches, set in the tympanum of the main arch.​2 The clerestory above is decidedly transitional; and consists of a pointed arch enriched with shafts at the angles, and supported on either side by low circular arches, which form the openings of a wall passage.

The true arches of the nave spring from half capitals set against the pillars, and are plain, with a circular moulding toward the nave. The crown of these arches is considerably below the main capitals of the pillars, from which spring the upper or triforium arches. The half capitals assist in carrying the vaulting of the  p9 aisles. The whole arrangement, rare on the Continent, is very unusual in England, where, indeed, it would be impossible to point out a second example on so wide a scale.​3 It should be remarked that much apparent height is given to both nave and choir by the lofty pillars, and the double row of arches. The interchange of circular and octagonal pillars, the pointed arches of the clerestory, and the details of the capitals and bases, which nearly approach Early English, sufficiently prove that the nave was the last portion of the Norman cathedral completed.

VII. The vaulting-shafts of the roof spring from corbels at the intersection of the upper arches. The corbels and shafts are Norman; but the brackets which they support, and which assist in carrying the existing roof, are enriched Perpendicular, and form part of Wolsey's preparations for the vault of stone with which, as it would seem, he at first intended to cover the nave. This plan, however, was never carried out; and was probably soon exchanged for that of the present timber roof, which is, to all appearance, of Wolsey's time, and is an excellent specimen of its class. It is of low pitch, with the beams supported on low semicircular arches, that form having been evidently been selected in order to adapt the roof to the arches of the lantern tower. The square panels of the rafters are filled in with a star-like ornament.

VIII. The arrangement of the half capitals will at once be seen in the aisles of the nave; the vault in and  p10 windows of which are decided, though very early, Early English. The mouldings of the vaulting-ribs vary; those in one bay of the south aisle should be noticed for their unusual beauty.

The west wall of the cathedral is built up between the two west pillars of what is now the fourth and last bay of the nave. The original west end seems to have been worked up again by Wolsey. At any rate, a Norman string is cut through by the west window, which is early Decorated (geometrical), of four lights. A smaller window, of similar character, is inserted at the end of each aisle. The stained glass in all of these is interesting, and should be examined. That in the west window is principally made up of ancient fragments belonging to the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The window in the south aisle, dated 1631, represents the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, which appear as modern Dutch towns. It is by Abraham Van Linge, who filled many windows in the cathedral with stained glass between the years 1630 and 1640. Some of these were destroyed during the Rebellion; but others were taken down and preserved. The window in the north aisle, representing St. Peter's release from prison, is dated 1700, and is the work of Isaac Oliver, nephew of the better known miniature painters, Peter and Isaac Oliver. The artist was aged 84 when he executed this window, which was his own gift to the college. The window adjoining is filled with the badges of Cardinal Wolsey, brought here from the hall, and, although interesting, not altogether in place. [Plate XIV.]º

[image ALT: An engraving of three round stained-glass windows. One depicts a cross-shaped staff on two crossed pickaxes; the second a similar staff on two crossed columns with capitals and bases; the third the face of a lion inscribed in a pentagon, on a five-petalled rose. They are badges of Cardinal Wolsey in Christ Church at Oxford (Oxfordshire, England).]

[image ALT: An engraving of two round stained-glass windows. One is an elaborate monogram ('ihs', lower case) in Gothic book script; the second a Greek letter omega with a radiant sun in the center, on which is superimposed a vertical bar with a depiction of the Virgin Mary, the bar and the omega thus forming the capital letter 'M'. The windows are in the Lady Chapel of Christ Church at Oxford (Oxfordshire, England).]

 p11  On the west wall are mural tablets for Bishop Lloyd (died 1829), and Dean Gaisford (died 1855). The nave pillars outside the screen are disfigured by heavy monuments of no general interest.

[image ALT: An engraving of an elaborate wooden pulpit with an abat-voix surmounted by a pelican. It is the pulpit of Christ Church cathedral (Oxford, England).]

IX. The present arrangement of the choir dates from 1856, when the interior of the cathedral was restored under the direction of Mr. Billing. Galleries and high pews were then swept away; and the old wood-work of the choir was "entirely used up again in a new form with much ingenuity; not a barrow-full was carried out, nor a single foot of new wood introduced." This is understood to be only a temporary arrangement; and, although a great improvement has been effected, it is much to be desired that more appropriate furniture should be introduced with as little delay as possible. With the exception of the pulpit, and perhaps the choir-screen, the wood-work is poor, and quite unworthy of the cathedral, regarded only as the chapel of the most important college in Oxford.

The choir-screen now incloses two bays of the nave; and judging from the shafts of the central tower-arches, which terminate half-way down, it seems probable that the original monastic choir also embraced a portion of the nave, an arrangement by no means unusual in Norman cathedrals. The screen itself is Jacobean, and deserves notice for its curious mixture of Gothic and Italian detail. The pulpit, at the angle of the south transept is, however, far more interesting and remarkable. It is probably of the same date as the screen. The grotesque carvings on its sides, — "strikingly similar  p12 to others of about the same date in some of the old houses in Holywell," are especially worthy of attention. [Plate II.] The original canopy, terminating in the symbol of the pelican, has been removed into the choir, where it now serves as the canopy of the episcopal throne.

X. The fine and lofty arches of the central tower are circular towards the nave and choir, but pointed towards the transepts. They are all four, however, of the same transitional character; and no doubt formed part of the works executed during the priorate of Canutus. The mouldings of the circular arches resemble those of the upper arches of the choir; the transept arches spring from piers composed of three nooked shafts; and have a broader and plainer soffete than those leading to the nave and choir. The tower is cut off, just above these arches, by a flat panelled ceiling of timber, no doubt inserted when the bells were brought here from Oseney. It was originally, as at Winchester, Romsey, and other Norman churches, open as a lantern; and the arcades of its upper portion still remain above the ceiling. (For the interior of the tower and spire, which can only be reached through the clerestory of the south transept, see § XIX.)

During the repairs of 1856, a small crypt or subterranean chamber, 7 ft. long, 7 ft. high, and 5½ ft. wide, was discovered in the centre of the church, immediately under the eastern tower-arch. It was constructed of rude stone-work, coated with plaster; and had two small recesses or 'ambries,' north and south. Its date  p13 and original purpose are by no means certain. It has been conjectured — that it may have been a portion of an original crypt, as at Ripon and Hexham; — that it may have been the first resting-place of St. Frideswide, carefully preserved when the Norman church was commenced on the site of the Saxon; — that it may have been the secret place with which every monastery was provided, and in which the treasures of the house were hidden in times of danger; — that it may have been constructed for the keeping of the University chest, which, for some time during the thirteenth century, was deposited in a 'secret place' within the church of St. Frideswide; — or that it may have been used for the production of certain miraculous appearances, many of them attended with curious effects of light, which, throughout the twelfth century, are recorded to have taken place at the shrine of the Saint. It has not been proved, however, that the shrine at any time occupied this position in the church, although it is not impossible that it may have done so; and the use of the subterranean chamber still remains uncertain.

[image ALT: An engraving of three bays of a church, with an elaborate Gothic tracery ceiling. It depicts the choir of Christ Church cathedral (Oxford, England).]

XI. We now pass into the true choir, eastward of the tower; the Norman portion of which is of the same general character as the nave. Ugly wood-work and heavy monuments are still too intrusive, and catch the eye in spite of the beauty of the roof and the singular view northward through the chapels. The choir consists of five bays. All the pillars are circular; the capitals are less elaborate, and the abaci heavier than elsewhere in the church; the mouldings of the upper arches are  p14 rounded throughout. [Plate III.] These features apparently indicate that the choir, although of the same late character as the rest of the Norman work, was the first part of the church completed. The arrangement of the triforium and side aisles is the same as in the nave.

[image ALT: An engraving of part of the elaborate Gothic tracery ceiling of a church. It depicts the ceiling in the choir of Christ Church cathedral (Oxford, England).]

The groined roof of the choir, a magnificent example, was the work of Wolsey; and although not without indications of declining art, adds greatly to the effect of this part of the cathedral. The lantern-like pendants may be compared with those in the choir of Christ Church, Hants., of rather earlier date and especially with those in the timber roof of the college hall, which are nearly fac-similes. The grotesque heads terminating these pendants immediately within the choir arch, should be noticed. The roof itself terminates against the arch with a series of figures under rich canopies. [Plate IV.] The vaulting-shafts next to the tower, the corbels of which represent the heads of a king and of a monk, are entirely Perpendicular. In the others the Norman corbels remain, and Perpendicular capitals have been fitted to the original shafts. Wolsey's alteration includes the whole of the choir above the triforium arches, and its commencement is marked by the flowered cornice at the base of the clerestory. The Norman walls above this cornice, however, were not removed; and the wall passage of the clerestory is the same as that in the nave, although its original masonry is hidden beneath the rich panelling of the window jambs. Similar panelling appears on each side of the windows, and on the roof as far as the pendants. Its flatness, as well as the  p15 ungraceful form of the cusps in the window arches, which might have been turned in wood, are indications of debased character, which may also be traced in some of the details of the roof itself, especially in the foliation of the straight ribs.4

The east window, which is early Decorated, was filled with stained glass by a subscription among the members of the College in 1854, to commemorate the third centenary of its establishment. The glass, which represents the principal events in the life of our Saviour, was the work of the brothers Henri and Alfred Gérente — the first of whom died before the window was completed.

For the aisles of the choir, see §§ XIII, XVII. The transepts, like the nave and choir, are late Norman  p16 and of the same date. The arrangement of both was originally the same; and both had eastern and western aisles. In the south transept, however (§ XVI), the west aisle has disappeared, and a portion of the transept has been cut off and secularized. The north transept, which we now enter, retains both its aisles; but each bay of that to the east has been broken through in order to the constructionº of chapels of later date. In the transepts the clerestory windows are circular.

The transept itself consists of three bays. The vaulting of the west aisle is carried from half capitals, as in the nave and choir aisles. Both transepts have flat timber roofs; but it was apparently Wolsey's intention that both have enriched stone vaults, like that of the choir. The two northern bays of the clerestory in the north transept shew the commencement of the work, and have been converted from Norman to late Perpendicular in the same manner as the clerestory windows of the choir. It is uncertain whether the remarkable and very unpleasing screens with circular openings, which are placed between the pillars of the eastern aisle, and through which the eastern chapels are entered, are part of Wolsey's work, or whether they were inserted in 1630, when the woodwork of the cathedral, altered in 1856, was first introduced. The circular opening is formed by the original Norman arch, and by the top of the screen below. The screens themselves have Gothic details with square Renaissance doorways; and may very well belong to either period.


[image ALT: An engraving of a tomb and monument in the Gothic style. It is the early 16c monument of Dr. James Zouch in the choir of Christ Church cathedral (Oxford, England).]

Against the north wall of this transept is the tomb of James Zouch (died 1503), a monk of the priory, whose profession of a scribe is indicated by the pen-case and inkhorn on the panels. [Plate V.] He left money toward the vaulting of the church; a proof that this alteration had been intended, though perhaps not commenced, before the priory passed into the hands of Wolsey. In the western aisle is a mural tablet for two undergraduates of Christ Church, Gaisford and Phillimore, drowned in Sandford-lasher, June 23, 1843 — the latter in attempting to save his friend. The very fine sitting figure of Dean Cyril Jackson (died 1819), by Chantrey, placed here in 1820, is the most conspicuous object in the transept, and will already have attracted the visitor's attention.

The large five-light window at the end of this transept contains a painting by Van Linge, representing the entry of Christ into Jerusalem. Various portions of earlier glass, however, have been inserted in the middle of the picture. In the centre light is the murder of Becket, dating early in the fourteenth century, and well deserving notice for the excellent example of armour it affords. The chain-mail of the knights, their "genouillières", or knee-caps, and the form of their swords, should be remarked. The bearings of Fitzurse and Le Bret are conspicuous on their shields. The Archbishop kneels before the altar of St. Benedict, beside which stands his cross-bearer, the Saxon monk Grim, whose arm is wounded by the sword of Fitzurse. The figures are placed on a diapered ground  p18 of red and blue. The window at the end of the transept aisle, also by Van Linge, represents the city of Nineveh, with Jonah sitting under the shadow of the gourd.

XIII. The north choir-aisle, which is entered from this transept through one of the screens already mentioned, is transitional, and part of the original Norman church. The vaulting of the roof should, however, be noticed, and compared with that of the nave-aisles. In the latter it is pure Early English in its forms, and has pointed arches; in the choir-aisles it is pure Norman, and the arches are circular. This is of course another indication (see § XI) that the choir was the portion of the church which was first completed; and that the nave-aisles were the last. In the north choir-aisle is a monument, with a bust, for Dean Godwyn (died 1620).

XIV. Adjoining the choir-aisle, and entered from the central eastern bay of the transept, is the Lady-chapel, of Early English architecture, and added towards the middle of the thirteenth century. As the city wall closely adjoined the east end of the cathedral, it was impossible to add the Lady-chapel in that, the most usual, direction. The north wall of the choir-aisle was therefore broken through, and Early English piers and arches constructed in each bay, the Norman vaulting-shafts of the aisle remaining undisturbed. The western arch is circular, and was that of the eastern transept-aisle. The Early English arches themselves should be carefully examined. There is some trace of recent depression, especially in the easternmost arch;  p19 but hardly sufficient, it would seem, to account for the decidedly four-centred appearance which the arches now present. This form, which is at least of extreme rarity during the Early English period, is further indicated in the east window of the Lady-chapel, the inner and unaltered arch of which nearly resembles those of the piers.

The monuments which remain in the Lady-chapel are, however, more interesting than the architecture of the chapel itself. They are arranged under the arches on the north side. The first, westward, commonly called that of Sir Henry de Bathe, is more probably the tomb of Sir George Nowers (de Nodariis), (died 1425). [Plate VI.] His effigy affords a good example of armour, which is, however, earlier in character than 1425. (It may be compared with that of the Black Prince at Canterbury.) If the effigy be really that of Sir George Nowers, it may have been prepared during his lifetime. The panels below are filled in with shields of arms.

[image ALT: An engraving of a medieval tomb; on the lid a knight in armor, with a dog under his feet, and the head of a leopard as his pillow. It is the tomb of Sir George Nowers in Christ Church at Oxford (Oxfordshire, England).]

[image ALT: An engraving of a medieval tomb of a mitred ecclesiastic, with a canopy of three Gothic gables. It is the tomb known as Prior Guymond's in Christ Church at Oxford (Oxfordshire, England).]

The second monument, under a very rich early Decorated canopy, is said to be that of Prior Guymond (died 1149), but cannot possibly be of his time. [Plate VII.] Both tomb and effigy are of the reign of Edward I (circ. 1300); and although the Norman prior under whom the religious foundation of St. Frideswide was re-established (see Part II) may have been thus honoured long after his death, it is more probable that the monument belongs to one of his successors. The sides of the canopy, north and south, present a front of three  p20 pointed arches, cinque-foiled within. "The prior is represented vested, with the amice about his neck with the apparel; in the alb, the apparels of which appear at the skirt in front, and round the close-fitting sleeves at the wrists; with the stole, and dalmatic, or tunic — which it is somewhat difficult to say: these two latter are not sculptured, but merely painted on the effigy, and are only apparent on a careful examination; over these is worn the chasuble. This vestment is very rich, and ornament with orphreys round the borders, over the shoulders, and straight down in front. Hanging down from the left arm is the maniple. The boots are pointed at the toes, and the feet rest against a lion. There is no indication of the pastoral staff; the hands are joined on the breast." — M. H. Bloxam.

The third monument is that of Elizabeth, Lady Montacute (died 1353) [Plate VIII.]; who is said (see, however, § XV) to have built the chapel adjoining the Lady-chapel, north, and to have given to St. Frideswide's the meadow now so well known as Christ Church Walk. She was the daughter of Sir Peter de Montfort; and widow successively of William de Montacute and Thomas de Furnival; by the former of whom she had four sons and six daughters. Lady Montacute wears a sleeveless robe, red, and flowered with yellow and green, fastened in front with a row of ornamented buttons. The close-fitting sleeves belong to an inner vest, of a different colour and pattern. Over the robe is a mantle, fastened in front by a light and rich lozenge-shaped morse, raised in high relief. "The  p21 mantle, of a buff colour, is covered all over with rondeaux, or roundels, connected together by small bands, whilst in the intermediate spaces are fleurs-de‑lys. All these are of raised work, and deserve minute examination. They are apparently not executed by means of the chisel, but formed in some hard paste or composition, laid upon the sculptured stone, and impressed with a stamp." — M. H. Bloxam. Of the small figures at the sides of the tomb, two, north, represent two daughters of Lady Montacute, who were successively Abbesses of Barking in Essex. "Sculptured effigies of abbesses, especially of this period, are rare; and I know but of one recumbent sepulchral effigy of this class, — in Polesworth Church, Warwickshire. This is a fact which renders these the more interesting." — M. H. B.

[image ALT: An engraving of a medieval tomb; on the lid a knight in armor, with a dog under his feet, and the head of a leopard as his pillow. It is the tomb of Lady Montacute in Christ Church at Oxford (Oxfordshire, England).]

[image ALT: An engraving of a medieval tomb; on the lid a knight in armor, with a dog under his feet, and the head of a leopard as his pillow. It is the tomb of Lady Montacute in Christ Church at Oxford (Oxfordshire, England).]

On the south side is a bishop, no doubt Simon of Ely (1337‑1345), a son of Lady Montacute. The secular costume of the remaining figures, male and female, on both sides, is varied and full of interest. At each end of the tomb, east and west, is a very beautiful quatrefoiled compartment — that at the head containing the Virgin and Child between the emblems of the Evangelists St. Matthew and St. John; that at the foot a female figure in relief, clad in a gown and mantle, and with long flowing hair, between the emblems of St. Mark and St. Luke. The shields in the upper angles of the panels are those of Montfort, Montacute, and Furnival.

The fourth monument on this side is that known  p22 as the Shrine of St. Frideswide, but which seems really to have been, as Professor Willis has suggested, the watching chamber which, here as elsewhere, adjoined the shrine for the protection of the gold and jewels which enriched it. It consists of three stages; the two lower forming an altar-tomb of stone with a stone canopy; the upper of wood. [Frontispiece.] These belong to the end of the fifteenth or beginning of the sixteenth century; and may by possibly, as Dr. Ingram suggests, have been erected during the primacy and under the patronage of Archbishop Morton (died 1500), who had been Chancellor of the University, and a great benefactor to it. On the altar-tomb are the matrices of two brasses, said to have represented Didan and Saffrida, the father and mother of St. Frideswide; but whether this tomb is of the same date as the superstructure is uncertain. The mitred head-dress of the lady belongs to the middle of the fifteenth century, and is the only portion of costume indicated by the outlines of the figures, which alone now remain.

The shrine of St. Frideswide was probably removed to this chapel on its completion in the thirteenth century. The saint herself was recognised as the patroness of Oxford; and was occasionally represented (as in Cardinal Wolsey's Evangelistarium, in the library of Magdalen College) with an ox at her side. An ancient tradition asserted that if a king of England entered the church of St. Frideswide, he would certainly be unfortunate: in defiance of which, Henry III performed his devotions before the shrine in 1264, and  p23 was beyond a doubt 'unfortunate' afterwards — most of all in the battle of Lewes.

The relics of the saint, although they were, of course, removed from their shrine on the visitation of Henry the Eighth's commissioners, were nevertheless preserved; and were again "made accessible to the veneration of the faithful" by Cardinal Pole. On the accession of Elizabeth they were once more concealed, and did not find their final resting-place for some years afterwards. Peter Martyr, Divinity Professor at Christ Church during the reign of Edward VI, had brought within the college walls his wife, named Catherine Cathie; who, like the wife of Luther, had been a professed nun. She died before Mary's accession, and was buried in the cathedral. Cardinal Pole directed that her remains, which had been laid "near the sepulchre of the holy virgin St. Frideswide," should be cast out from holy ground; and they were accordingly taken from her coffin and flung into a cesspool at the back of the deanery. Elizabeth ordered that the body should be restored to decent burial. "The fragments were recovered with difficulty, and were about to be replaced in the earth under the floor of the cathedral, when some one produced the sacred box which contained the remains of Frideswide . . . . They were brought out at the critical moment, and an instant sense of the fitness of things consigned to the same resting-place the bones of the wife of Peter Martyr. The married nun and the virgin saint were buried together, and the dust of the two remains under the pavement inextricably  p24 blended."​5 According to the Jesuit Sanders, the "impious epitaph" on the chest was "hic jacet religio cum superstitione." "Although," says Fuller, "the words being capable of a favourable sense on his side, he need not have been so angry."6

Against the pier opposite the shrine is the monument of Robert Burton, author of the well-known "Anatomy of Melancholy," who died in 1639. From 1599 he had been a student of Christ Church, and held till his death the church of St. Thomas, in Oxford. The monument displays his bust, which, as seen in profile, is certainly marked by the melancholia which is said to have destroyed him. At the sides are a sphere and a calculation of his nativity. The inscription, written by himself, and placed here by his brother, William Burton, the historian of Leicestershire, runs thus:—

"Paucis notus, paucioribus ignotus
Hic jacet
Democritus Junior
Cui vitam dedit et mortem

Against the pier below is the monument of Dean Aldrich (died 1711), with a bust and a curious emblem of death — a crowned skull with wings at the back — beneath it. Dean Aldrich possessed considerable learning, and was the author of the "Compendium of Logic," still, unhappily, in use. His musical compositions have better claims to a protracted life. His anthems and cathedral services are well known;' and his catch,  p25 "Hark! the bonny Christ Church bells," may be mentioned with respect within hearing of the bells themselves.

[image ALT: An engraving of a lancet window. It is an outside view of a window in the Latin Chapel of Christ Church cathedral (Oxford, England).]
One of the Windows of the Latin Chapel.

XV. The northern, or Latin Chapel (so called from the Latin service which is read in it at the beginning of Term), is Decorated; and is generally said to have been built by Lady Montacute as her own chantry.​7 The western arch was originally that of the transept aisle. The wall of the Lady-chapel has been cut through, and somewhat large masses of it worked into the piers. The vaulting is Decorated, with gracefully-turned arches and bosses enriched with foliage,  p26 among which appears that of the water-lily, still a native of the Cherwell and the Isis. [Plates IX and X.]

[image ALT: An engraving of a stone ceiling boss in the Gothic style, depicting the head of a king on a background of water-lily foliage. It is a ceiling boss in the Latin Chapel of Christ Church at Oxford (Oxfordshire, England).]

[image ALT: An engraving of a stone ceiling boss in the Gothic style, depicting rose flowers and foliage. It is a ceiling boss in the Latin Chapel of Christ Church at Oxford (Oxfordshire, England).]

[image ALT: An engraving of a stone ceiling boss in the Gothic style, depicting a mitred head on a background of clematis flowers. It is a ceiling boss in the Latin Chapel of Christ Church at Oxford (Oxfordshire, England).]

[image ALT: An engraving of a stone ceiling boss in the Gothic style, depicting a dragon on a background of foliage. It is a ceiling boss in the Latin Chapel of Christ Church at Oxford (Oxfordshire, England).]

[image ALT: An engraving of a stone ceiling boss in the Gothic style, depicting a squirrel and foliage. It is a ceiling boss in the Latin Chapel of Christ Church at Oxford (Oxfordshire, England).]

[image ALT: An engraving of a stone ceiling boss in the Gothic style, depicting various types of foliage. It is a ceiling boss in the Latin Chapel of Christ Church at Oxford (Oxfordshire, England).]

An entirely new east window, with beautiful, but strangely incongruous Venetian tracery and stained-glass, has been inserted as a memorial of Dr. Bull, Canon of Christ Church, who died in 1859. The glass, designed by Mr. Jones, has been executed by Messrs. Powell, and deserves especial notice. The subjects are from the life of St. Frideswide; who in the first light is seen at school; founding her nunnery with the chief of her companions; and sought in marriage by the messengers of the Mercian king: in the last subject the king with his forces is approaching to carry her off. In the second light she is seen leaving Oxford, and descending the river to Abingdon; the King of Mercia is then shewn ravaging the country about Oxford; and St. Frideswide appears among the swine. In the third light she retreats to a nunnery at Binsey; the king finding no trace of her, returns sorrowfully. Her companions join her at Binsey; where she becomes distinguished by miracles and alms-deeds. In the fourth light the king again seeks her; she flies to Oxford; the battle is shewn between the Mercians and the men of Oxford: and the king is struck blind with a waving shaft of lightning. The last subject is the death of St. Frideswide, whose story will be found more at length in Part II. In the tracery above are the ship of souls convoyed by angels, and the trees of life and of knowledge. The harmonious colouring of this glass, the excellent character of the several designs, and the  p27 beauty of the details, especially of the water-plants and animals introduced, deserve especial notice and commendation. The window may be said to mark a decided step in the art of modern glass-staining.

[image ALT: An engraving of the wooden finial of a seat, in the Gothic style. It is a sample of woodwork in the Latin Chapel of Christ Church cathedral (Oxford, England).]
Poppy-head in the Latin Chapel.

The woodwork in this chapel is unusually fine, and affords some very good examples. It is much later than the chapel itself, and is apparently part of the furniture prepared for the choir by Wolsey. One of the poppy-heads represents the Cardinal's hat supported by angels. The emblems of the Evangelists, and the sacred monogram, I. H. S., appear on others.

Against the western pier is the monument of John Fell, Bishop of Oxford and Dean of Christ Church (died 1696. See Part II.) The inscription was written by Dean Aldrich.

In this chapel the Regius Professor of Divinity lectures.

 p28  XVI. Re-crossing the church we enter the south transept, within which the organ is placed. The original arrangements here were precisely the same as those of the transept opposite; but the western aisle was destroyed, probably in order to form the cloisters, before Wolsey's alterations; and the third, or southern, now forms a portion of the verger's house. Above the arch of the south choir-aisle are two corbels, representing an angel and a king, the purpose of which is quite uncertain, though it has been conjectured that they may have assisted in supporting some kind of gallery towards the water. They are of later date (Perpendicular?) than the arch itself.

In the transept are tablets for Dr. James, Bishop of Calcutta, and Dr. Faussett, Lady Margaret's Professor of Divinity (died 1853).

XVII. The south choir-aisle is entered from this transept. It is of the same date and character as the aisle opposite. The east window has been filled with stained glass by Wailes, as a memorial of G. G. Fortescue, of Boconnoc, who died at Algiers, 1858. Some indistinct remains of painting may be traced against the pillars of the eastern bay.

[image ALT: An engraving of a tomb in a recess in a wall, in the Gothic style, over which there is a stained-glass window depicting a bishop. It is the funerary monument of Bishop King in Christ Church cathedral (Oxford, England).]

Recessed under the first window of this aisle is the altar-tomb, with canopy, of Robert King, first Bishop of Oxford (died 1557. See Part II.) This monument was originally placed in the choir, and was removed to its present situation by Henry King, afterwards Bishop of Chichester, and his brother John; both of whom  p29 were canons of Christ Church in the early part of the seventeenth century, and were descended from William King, brother of the Bishop of Oxford. They filled the window above the monument with stained glass (probably by Van Linge), representing the Bishop fully vested, with the ruins of Oseney, of which he had been abbot, in the background.​8 The arms are those of King, impaled with the abbey of Oseney and the see of Oxford. (Plate XI.) During the Rebellion this window was taken down and preserved by a member of the family.

XVIII. The second bay of the transept-aisle, probably the chapel of St. Lucy, but now serving as a vestry, remains in its original condition, with the exception of its eastern wall, which was rebuilt in order to receive a Decorated window of very beautiful and unusual character. The tracery is flamboyant, and commences far below the opening of the arch.

A door in this portion of the transept opens to the verger's garden. The base of a buttress at the angle of the transept is formed of a curious piece of Norman sculpture, which was probably the capital of a pillar. There is not, at any rate, the slightest reason for believing that it ever formed a portion of the 'altar' or 'shrine' of St. Frideswide, as was suggested by Dr. Ingram.  p30 The subjects represented are, the Fall of Man, the Sacrifice of Abraham, and a third which has not been deciphered.

[image ALT: An engraving of the top of an octagonal stone spire, in the Gothic style, about 3 meters high. It is the original spire of Christ Church cathedral (Oxford, England), which at the time it was depicted was set up on the ground in a garden.]
Original top of the Spire.

At the end of the garden the original top of the spire (§ IV) has been set up, and may be compared with its modern fac-simile. The finial with its graceful foliage has not been restored. From this point also an excellent view of the east end of the cathedral is obtained. This, which is a good example of late enriched Norman, consists of a gable, which has been lowered, between two square turrets, which in all probability terminated originally in slender spires, such as still remain on the north transept. (§ XXIII.) The turrets are enriched with blind arcades, the uppermost of which has pointed, the lowest intersecting arches. The Norman window has been replaced by a  p31 Decorated one of three lights, already noticed. (§ XI.) It fills the entire space between the turrets.

The square eastern end is perhaps another indication of late or transitional work. The earlier Norman choirs generally terminated in an apse.

XIX. Returning to the transept, and passing through it into the cloister, the visitor who desires to ascend the tower, the arrangements of which are curious and interesting, must enter the verger's house, which is in fact the northern bay of the transept. Through this he will gain admission to the clerestory, the only passage to the upper part of the tower. The chamber above the ceiling, originally open as a lantern, is surrounded with an arcade of very small arches resting on massy shafts, the capitals of which spread in an unusual manner, and are much enriched. In the west range of this arcade was a small opening into the roof of the nave, now blocked up. Above is another arcade of taller arches, in the angles of which were the round-headed windows, the traces of which are seen without, on either side of the original roof-line. The upper, or belfry-stage, which is Early English, is internally octagonal; the subordinate faces, which are much smaller than the cardinal, being formed by chamfering off the angular turrets. The 'squinches,' or small arches above these faces, support the spire. [Plate XII.]

[image ALT: An engraving of the corner of a small room with stone walls, in the Gothic style. It is one of the supporting squinches of the central tower of Christ Church cathedral (Oxford, England).]

A wall-passage runs round this chamber, piercing the slender piers between the window-arches, the corbels supporting which should be noticed. The bells which hang in this chamber were those of Oseney Abbey, where they  p32 hung in the great western tower represented in the window above Bishop King's monument. The fame of their melody was widely spread before their removal to Christ Church, and their names were thus recorded in a rude hexameter:—

"Hautclere, Douce, Clement, Austyn, Marie, Gabriel, et John."

[image ALT: An engraving of a small double lancet Gothic window. It is a window in the spire of Christ Church cathedral (Oxford, England).]
Spire Light.

A narrow and awkward passage leads upward to the lower part of the spire, in which the Early English spire-lights deserve examination. This have a double plane of tracery; the mullion and quatrefoil in head being repeated in the inner arch. The outer arches have two transoms, which, like the mullions, are square. Transoms are rare during the Early English period, but occur also in belfry-towers at Bampton and at Witney, both in Oxfordshire.

XX. The entrance to the chapter-house, on the east  p33 side of the cloisters, is transition Norman, and apparently of the same date as the church. [Title-page.] It is an arch of four 'orders' or divisions, the two inner of which are richly ornamented with zigzag moulding. The two outer rise from shafts, the capitals of which on the south side are plainly cushioned; on the north they are elaborately sculptured. An ornamented label surrounds the external arch. On either side of the doorway is a circular window-opening, plain without, but within ornamented with the same label as the doorway. The vaulting of the cloister roof has been broken off very near this doorway; but at what time, or for what purpose, is uncertain.

The chapter-house itself was rebuilt during the very best Early English period, of which it affords an excellent example. It may be compared with the chapter-house at Lincoln, also Early English, but somewhat later in the style,​9 with the Early English chapter-house at Salisbury, both of which, it should be remembered, were attached to cathedrals of far greater wealth and importance than the priory of St. Frideswide, and with the chapter-house at Chester, which is nearly of the same date and character. [Plate XIII.]

[image ALT: An engraving of a large vaulted room in the Gothic style, with lancet windows. It is the chapter-house of Christ Church cathedral (Oxford, England).]


The purity of its style, however, and the interest of its details, would entitle this chapter-house to a high rank could it be restored to its original condition. It is now cut in two by a stone wall, the inner portion alone  p34 being used as the chapter-house. The original form was a parallelogram, divided into four bays, the vaulting of which springs from clustered shafts supported on brackets. The eastern end is especially beautiful. An arcade of five arches fills the entire bay. The three central arches are pierced for windows, deeply recessed, and are in fact double, the inner arches resting on slender clustered shafts with foliaged capitals, the outer or window-arches resting on single shafts attached to the wall. Of these outer arches those north and south are blank. The three central ones are pierced, and form a very striking triplet, each light of which is crossed by a transom, with a four-centred arch beneath. (See § XIV.) The foliage and ornaments of the clustered shafts and capitals, as well as that introduced between the arcade and the roof, are most graceful, and deserve all possible attention. The two eastern bays on the south side, and the eastern bay on the north, have similar arcades of three arches, the centre arch of which, now blocked up, was originally open as a window. The details of these arcades are less rich than those of the eastern, but should be noticed, as well as the grotesque corbels which support the vaulting-shafts,  p35 and the bosses at the intersection of the vaulting-ribs, which are curious and elaborate. One of them represents the Virgin, crowned, presenting an apple to the divine Infant.

[image ALT: An engraving of a vault boss depicting the Virgin giving an apple to the Baby Jesus. It is in the chapter-house of Christ Church cathedral (Oxford, England).]

Boss in the Chapter-house.

The chapter-house contains a chest covered with rich flamboyant panelling, a finely carved Elizabethan table, and some wainscoting of the same period, all well deserving of attention. In the outer division of the chapter-house, against the south wall, is the foundation-stone of Wolsey's College at Ipswich, rescued from destruction by the Rev. Richard Canning, Rector of Harkstead and Freston in Suffolk, who found it built into a wall, and bequeathed it to the Dean and Chapter in 1789. The inscription (at length) runs, "Anno Christi 1528, et Regni Henrici Octavi, Regis Angliae 20, mensis vero Junii 15, positum per Johannem, Episcopum Lidensem." This bishop was John Holt, titular Bishop of Lydda, and probably a suffragan of Lincoln.

XXI. The cloister originally formed a square, but the west walk and part of the north shared the fate of the west front of the church, and the remaining portion of the north walk has been converted into a muniment-room. The east walk, and part of the south, remain; but at least half of the east side has lost its vaulted roof, and a second story has been added, with very indifferent windows. The cloisters and refectory are traditionally said to have been built with funds bequeathed for the purpose by Lady Montacute, but the work is certainly of later date. The vaulting, which is peculiar, cannot be earlier than the middle of the fifteenth  p36 century, judging from the character of some of the bosses; and the single original window that remains must be of the same date. The panelling of the windows should be compared with that introduced by Wolsey in the clerestory of the choir, with which it agrees even to the character of the cusps.

XXII. The ancient refectory of the priory rises above the south walk of the cloister, but has been converted into sets of rooms. On the north side its large and handsome Perpendicular windows, of three lights, remain.

In the chaplains' quadrangle, south of the refectory, the most picturesque and venerable portion of the college domestic buildings, are two remarkable Perpendicular windows, opening to the cloister, which on that side is continued to the meadows. They are of two lights, square-headed, with a label supported by angels. The lower part of the tracery in each light is formed in a curious manner by the intersection of straight lines.

XXIII. The only exterior view of the north side of the cathedral is to be obtained from the garden of the canon's house which adjoins it; to enter which permission must, of course, be asked. [Plate I.] The best point of view will be found to be the north-east corner of the garden, from which the eastern end with its chapels, the north transept with its turrets and pinnacles, and the central tower and spire, form a mass sufficiently varied and picturesque. The transept is flanked by square turrets, resembling those at the east end, and nearly of the same date. They are capped with slender spires, ornamented with shafts, and having conical terminations. These are transitional, and earlier than the  p37 terminations of the lower turrets, with which they should be compared. The transept-turrets have blind arcades, the arches of the two lower ranges of which are pointed, the upper circular. At the angle of the transept-aisle rises a square turret, terminating in a spire having crockets at the angles, and in the west face a niche containing a statue of St. Frideswide. The upper part of the turret, with the figure, is of early Perpendicular character.

The alterations commenced by Wolsey in the clerestory of the transept (§ XII) should here be noticed from the exterior.

[image ALT: An engraving of a foliaged capital flanked by 2 corbels, one foliaged, and the other a representation of a human head. It is in the choir of Christ Church cathedral (Oxford, England).]

Capital and Corbels, South Aisle of Choir.

The Author's Notes:

1 The transition is recorded in a MS., de Miraculis S. Frideswidae, in the Bodleian. According to this narrative, a light issuing from the relics of the Saint was seen shining above the tower of her church, eight years before the translation, — a proof that the tower was completed in 1172.

2 It has been suggested that these arches, set in the tympanum, were originally the clerestory openings of a Saxon church, the walls of which were raised by the Norman architect. During the visit of the Archaeological Institute to Oxford in 1850, however, an opening in the roof of the aisle was made under the direction of Professor Willis; and it was then seen that a single arch encloses the two at the back, according to the usual arrangement of a Norman triforium.

3 It occurs at Romsey, Hants., but only in the transept.

4 It is traditionally asserted that the materials of Oseney Abbey were used for the alterations in the cathedral; but it must be remembered that Oseney remained in its integrity at the time of Wolsey's fall; and if any portion of its stone or wood-work was used here, it must have been during the refitting of the interior in 1630. There is evidence (see Gutch's Collectanea Curiosa, vol. II) that the greater part of Wolsey's materials were duly paid for. A curious letter remains from the society of Magdalen College to Wolsey (Ellis, 2nd series, vol. II), who had asked the use of certain quarries belonging to the College for his work at Christ Church. "Quorsum enim spectat," runs the reply, "ut tu, Princeps maxime, et cujus sapientia jam totum Christianum orbem in stuporem converterit, petas potius quam imperes, ut liceat Celsitudini tuae ad opus pientissimum, videl. hoc sacrosanctum Asylum, uti lapidicinis nostris; quae haud dubie, si omnino aureae essent, quales apud Persas jactitantur montes, nunquam tamen vel minimae benificiorum tuorum parti respondere valuissent."

5 Froude, Hist. Eng., VI.468.

6 Worthies — Oxfordshire.

7 Professor Willis has suggested that the architectural character of this chapel indicates too early a date to allow of its having been the work of Lady Montacute. Judging from the light flowing tracery of the windows, however, the chapel can hardly be earlier than the reign of Edward III (1327‑1377), and as Lady Montacute died in 1353, she may very well have been the foundress.

8 This, it is said, is the only authentic view remaining of this great abbey. It represents the condition of its ruins about 1630. The bells now in this cathedral formerly hung in the great western tower of Oseney, which is seen in the window, and stood for some years after this period.

9 It should be remembered that until the reign of Henry VIII Oxford was in the diocese of Lincoln, and that the same company of workmen may have been passed from one place to the other.

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