Christ Church, Oxford

Colleges and halls of the University of Oxford
Christ Church
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Christ Church's famous Tom Tower.

College nameChrist Church
Latin nameÆdes Christi
Named afterJesus Christ
Sister collegeTrinity College, Cambridge
DeanThe Very Revd Christopher Andrew Lewis
JCR presidentLaura Ellis
GCR presidentTim Benjamin

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Christ Church, Oxford (Oxford (central))

Location of Christ Church within central OxfordCoordinates:
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Boat Club
Christ Church (Latin: Ædes Christi, the temple or house of Christ, and thus sometimes known as The House), is one of the largest constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England. As well as being a college, Christ Church is also the cathedral church of the diocese of Oxford, namely Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford. The cathedral has a famous men and boys' choir, and is one of the main choral foundations in Oxford.

Christ Church has traditionally been seen as the most aristocratic college in Oxford. It has produced thirteen British prime ministers (the two most recent being Anthony Eden from 1955 to 1957 and Sir Alec Douglas-Home in 19631964), which is more than any other Oxford or Cambridge college (and two short of the total number for the University of Cambridge, fifteen). However today the proportion of undergraduates from maintained and independent schools is roughly equal, which is typical of most Oxford colleges.

The college is the setting for parts of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, as well as Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. More recently it has been used in the filming of the movies of J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series and also the film adaptation of Philip Pullman's novel The Northern Lights (film named after the title of the US edition of the book, The Golden Compass). Distinctive features of the college's architecture have been used as models by a number of other academic institutions, including the National University of Ireland, Galway, which reproduces Tom Quad. The University of Chicago and Cornell University both have reproductions of Christ Church's dining hall (in the forms of Hutchinson Hall and Risley's dining hall respectively). Christ Church Cathedral, New Zealand, after which the City of Christchurch is named, is itself named after Christ Church, Oxford.

Christ Church is also partly responsible for creation of University College Reading, which later gained its own Royal Charter and became the University of Reading.

As of 2006 the college has an estimated financial endowment of £229m[1].


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Christ Church Cathedral spire and associated buildings
Christ Church, formally titled The Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral Church of Christ in Oxford of the Foundation of King Henry the Eighth, is the only college in the world which is also a cathedral, the seat (cathedra) of the Bishop of Oxford. The Visitor of Christ Church is the reigning British Sovereign, and the Bishop of Oxford is unique among English bishops in not being the visitor of his own cathedral.

The head of the college is the Dean of Christ Church, who is a clergyman appointed by the Crown as dean of the cathedral church. There is a Senior and a Junior Censor (formally titled the Censor Moralis Philosphiæ and the Censor Naturalis Philosophiæ) who are responsible for undergraduate discipline. A Censor Theologiæ is also appointed to act as the Dean's deputy.

The form "Christ Church College" is considered incorrect, in part because it ignores the cathedral, although it has historically been acceptable.

Governing Body

The Governing Body of Christ Church consists of the Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral, together with the Students of Christ Church, who are not students, but rather the equivalent of the Fellows of the other colleges. Until the nineteenth century, the Students differed from Fellows by the fact that they had no governing powers in their own college.


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Painting of the Hall of Christ Church
In 1525, at the height of his power, Thomas Cardinal Wolsey, Lord Chancellor of England and Archbishop of York, suppressed the Abbey of St Frideswide in Oxford and founded Cardinal College on its lands, using funds from the dissolution of Wallingford Priory. He planned the establishment on a magnificent scale, but fell from grace in 1529, before the college was completed.

In 1531 the college was itself suppressed, and refounded in 1532 as King Henry VIII's College by Henry VIII, to whom Wolsey's property had escheated. Then in 1546 the King, who had broken from the Church of Rome and acquired great wealth through the dissolution of the monasteries in England, refounded the college as Christ Church as part of the re-organisation of the Church of England and made it the cathedral of the recently created diocese of Oxford.

Christ Church's sister college in the University of Cambridge is Trinity College, Cambridge, founded the same year by Henry VIII. Since the time of Queen Elizabeth I the college has also been associated with Westminster School, which continues to supply a large proportion of the scholars of the college.

Major additions have been made to the buildings through the centuries, and Wolsey's Great Quadrangle was crowned with the famous gate-tower designed by Sir Christopher Wren. To this day the bell in the tower, Great Tom, is rung 101 times at 9 p.m. Oxford time (9:05 p.m. GMT/BST) every night for the 100 original scholars of the college (plus one added in 1664). In former times this signalled the close of all college gates throughout Oxford. Although the clock itself now shows GMT/BST, Christ Church still follows Oxford time in the timings of services in the cathedral.

King Charles I made the Deanery his palace and held his Parliament in the Great Hall during the English Civil War. In the evening of May 29, 1645, during the second siege of Oxford, a "bullet of IX lb. weight" shot from the Parliamentarians warning-piece at Marston fell against the wall of the north side of the Hall.[2]

Student life

As well as rooms for accommodation, the buildings of Christ Church include the cathedral, one of the smallest in England, which also acts as the college chapel, a great hall, two libraries, two bars, and common rooms for dons, graduates and undergraduates. There are also gardens and a neighbouring sportsground and boat-house.

Accommodation is usually provided for all undergraduates, and for some graduates, although some accommodation is off-site. Accommodation is generally spacious with most rooms equipped with sinks and fridges. Many undergraduate rooms comprise 'sets' of bedrooms and living areas. Members are generally expected to dine in hall, where there are two sittings every evening, one informal and one formal (where jackets, ties and gowns are worn and Latin grace is read). The buttery next to the Hall serves drinks around dinner time. There is also a college bar (known as the Undercroft), as well as a Junior Common Room (JCR) and a Graduate Common Room (GCR).
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Christ Church's library in the early 19th century.
There is a college lending library which supplements the university libraries (many of which are non-lending). Law students have the additional facility of the college law library, which has received large financial supplements from Christ Church law graduates. Most undergraduate tutorials are carried out in the college, though for some specialist subjects undergraduates may be sent to tutors in other colleges.

Croquet is played in the Masters' Garden in the summer. The sports ground is mainly used for cricket, tennis, rugby and soccer. Rowing and punting is carried out by the boat-house across Christ Church Meadow. The college owns its own punts which may be borrowed by students or dons.

The college beagle pack, which was formerly one of several undergraduate packs in Oxford, is no longer formally connected with the college or the university, but continues to be staffed and followed by undergraduates from across Oxford.

In June 2005, for the first time in 15 years, Christ Church held a white-tie Commemoration ball.


Christ Church has a number of architecturally significant buildings. These include:

Cathedral Choir

The Choir, which is unique in the world as both a Cathedral and College Choir, comprises twelve men and sixteen boys together with two organists. Six of the men are professionals (the lay clerks), and six are undergraduates (the academical clerks). The boys, whose ages range from eight to thirteen, are chosen for their musical ability and attend Christ Church Cathedral School.

Throughout its history, the Choir has attracted many distinguished composers and organists - from its first director, John Taverner, appointed by Cardinal Wolsey in 1526, to William Walton. The present director of music (known as the Organist), is Stephen Darlington. In recent years, the Choir has commissioned recorded works by contemporary composers such as John Tavener, William Mathias and Howard Goodall.

The Choir, which broadcasts regularly, has many award-winning recordings to its credit and was recently the subject of a Channel 4 television documentary, Howard Goodall's Great Dates. The film was nominated at the prestigious Montreux TV Festival in the Arts Programme category - and has since been seen throughout the world. The Choir's collaboration with Goodall has also led to their singing his TV themes for Mr Bean and The Vicar of Dibley. They appeared in Howard Goodall's Big Bangs, broadcast in the United Kingdom on Channel 4 in March 2000.

Coat of arms

The college arms, adopted (as with those of most Oxford colleges) apparently without authority, are those of Cardinal Wolsey, and are blazoned: Sable, on a cross engrailed argent, between four leopards' faces azure a lion passant gules; on a chief or between two Cornish choughs proper a rose gules barbed vert and seeded or. The arms are depicted beneath a red cardinal's hat with fifteen tassels on either side, and sometimes in front of two crossed croziers.

There are also arms in use by the cathedral, which were confirmed in a visitation of 1574. They are emblazoned: Between quarterly, 1st & 4th, France modern (azure three fleurs-de-lys or), 2nd & 3rd, England (gules in pale three lions passant guardant or), on a cross argent an open Bible proper edged and bound with seven clasps or, inscribed with the words "In principio erat Verbum, et Verbum erat apud Deum" and imperially crowned or.


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The Meadow Building, Christ Church

Before formal Hall each evening, the following Latin grace is recited by a scholar or exhibitioner of the House:

Nōs miserī hominēs et egēnī, prō cibīs quōs nōbis ad corporis subsidium benignē es largītus, tibi, Deus omnipotēns, Pater cælestis, grātiās reverenter agimus; simul obsecrantēs, ut iīs sobriē, modestē atque grātē ūtāmur.

Per Iēsum Christum Dominum nostrum.

Literally translated this means:

We wretched and needy men, for the food which you have kindly bestowed on us for the sustenance of our bodies, to you, almightly God, heavenly father, we give thanks with reverence; at the same time we beseech thee that we consume it with sobriety, moderation and gratitude.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The remaining words of the full grace replace Per Iēsum Christum, etc. on special occasions:

Īnsuper petimus, ut cibum angelōrum, vērum panem cælestem, verbum Deī æternem, Dominum nostrum Iēsum Christum, nōbis impertiāris; utque illō mēns nostra pascātur et per carnem et sanguinem eius fovēāmur, alāmur, et corrōborēmur..[3]

There is also a similarly long formal grace intended for use after meals, but this is rarely heard. Instead, when High Table rises, by which time the Hall is largely empty, the senior don simply says Benedictō benedīcātur.

Christ Church references

"Midnight has come and the great Christ Church bell
And many a lesser bell sound through the room;
And it is All Souls' Night..." — W B Yeats, All Souls' Night, Oxford (1920)

"The wind had dropped. There was even a glimpse of the moon riding behind the clouds. And now, a solemn and plangent token of Oxford's perpetuity, the first stroke of Great Tom sounded." — Max Beerbohm, Chapter 21, Zuleika Dobson (1922)

"I must say my thoughts wandered, but I kept turning the pages and watching the light fade, which in Peckwater, my dear, is quite an experience -- as darkness falls the stone seems positively to decay under one's eyes. I was reminded of some of those leprous facades in the vieux port at Marseille, until suddenly I was disturbed by such a bawling and caterwauling as you never heard, and there, down in the little piazza, I saw a mob of about twenty terrible young men, and do you know what they were chanting We want Blanche. We want Blanche! in a kind of litany." — Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited (1945)

"Those twins / Of learning that he [Wolsey] raised in you,
Ipswich and Oxford! one of which fell with him,
Unwilling to outlive the good that did it;
The other, though unfinish'd, yet so famous,
So excellent in art, and still so rising,
That Christendom shall ever speak his virtue." — William Shakespeare, Henry VIII

"By way of light entertainment, I should tell the Committee that it is well known that a match between an archer and a golfer can be fairly close. I spent many a happy evening in the centre of Peckwater Quadrangle at Christ Church, with a bow and arrow, trying to put an arrow over the Kilcannon building into the Mercury Pond in Tom Quad. On occasion, the golfer would win and, on occasion, I would win. Unfortunately, that had to stop when I put an arrow through the bowler hat of the head porter. Luckily, he was unhurt and bore me no ill will. From that time on he always sent me a Christmas card which was signed 'To Robin Hood from the Ancient Briton'" — Lord Crawshaw, House of Lords Hansard, Tuesday 8 Jul 1997

Deans of Christ Church

Cardinal College

King Henry VIII's College

Christ Church

Notable members

Listed alphabetically by surname (or peerage if best known by that).

Prime Ministers Arts and media Politics and government Philosophy Theology Viceroys and Governors General Academia Science Other See also and


1. ^ Oxford College Endowment Incomes, 1973-2006 (updated July 2007)
2. ^ Varley, Frederick John (1932). The Siege of Oxford: An Account of Oxford during the Civil War, 1642-1646. Oxford University Press, 128. 
3. ^ Adams, Reginald (1992). The college graces of Oxford and Cambridge. Perpetua Press, 62–64. ISBN 1-870882-06-7. 

External links

Main Website History of the cathedral Cathedral website Other sites Virtual Tours
List of Anglican Cathedrals in the United Kingdom and Ireland
Anglican Communion

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The Very Reverend Christopher Andrew Lewis is Dean of Christ Church, Oxford.

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