Christ Church Cathedral
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St Aldate’s · interesting places nearby
Christ Church information
The largest of all of Oxford’s colleges, with 650 students, and the one with the grandest quad, Christ Church is also its most popular. Its magnificent buildings, illustrious history and latter-day fame as a location for the Harry Potter films have tourists visiting in droves. The college was founded in 1524 by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, who suppressed the 9th-century monastery existing on the site to acquire the funds for his lavish building project.
Over the years numerous luminaries have been educated at Christ Church, including Albert Einstein, philosopher John Locke, poet WH Auden, Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll; who immortalised the then-dean’s daughter in his Alice in Wonderland tales), and no fewer than 13 British prime ministers. The main entrance is below the imposing 17th-century Tom Tower , the upper part of which was designed by former student Sir Christopher Wren. Great Tom, the 6-tonne tower bell, still chimes 101 times each evening at 9.05pm (Oxford is five minutes west of Greenwich) to sound the curfew imposed on the original 100 students – plus the one added in 1663.
Visitors must head further south down St Aldate’s to the visitors’ entrance (where there may be queues). From here, you go up to the Great Hall , the college’s spectacular dining room, with its hammer-beam roof and imposing portraits of past scholars. It was replicated in film studios as the Hogwarts dining hall for the Harry Potter films.
Coming down the grand fan-vaulted staircase (where Professor McGonagall welcomed Harry in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone ), you’ll enter Tom Quad , Oxford’s largest and arguably most impressive quadrangle, with a statue of Mercury in its pond.
From the quad, you access 12th-century Christ Church Cathedral . It was originally the abbey church and then the college chapel, but was declared a cathedral by Henry VIII when he broke from the Catholic Church, suppressed more monasteries and convents, and gave the college its current name in 1546. It was formerly known as Cardinal’s College.
Inside, brawny Norman columns are topped by elegant vaulting, and beautiful stained-glass windows illuminate the walls. Keep an eye out for the 13th-century reliquary of St Frideswide, Oxford’s patron saint, whose Anglo-Saxon shrine was a focus of pilgrimage prior to the college being built. Other notable features include the stained-glass depiction of the murder of Thomas Becket, dating from 1320, above the side altar on the right. As this is a working Anglican cathedral, there’s no charge to visit it for private prayer or to attend a service – talk to the porters at the main gate. Evensong is held at 6pm most days.
Finally, you’ll pass through the 15th-century cloister , a relic of the ancient Priory of St Frideswide.
To the south of the college is Christ Church Meadow , a leafy expanse bordered by the Rivers Cherwell and Isis, ideal for leisurely walking.
The hall often closes between noon and 2pm and the cathedral in late afternoon.