Christ Church Cathedral
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St Aldate's · interesting places nearby
Christ Church information
The largest of all of Oxford's colleges 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 coming in droves. The college was founded in 1524 by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, who suppressed the monastery existing on the site to acquire the funds for his lavish building project.
Over the years numerous luminaries have been educated here, including philosopher John Locke, poet WH Auden, Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), and no less than 13 British prime ministers. The main entrance is below the imposing Tom Tower , the upper part of which was designed by former student Sir Christopher Wren. Great Tom, the 7-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 go further down St Aldate's to the side entrance. Immediately on entering is the 15th-century cloister, a relic of the ancient Priory of St Frideswide, whose shrine was once a focus of pilgrimage. From here, you go up to the Great Hall , the college's magnificent dining room, with its hammerbeam roof and imposing portraits of past scholars; it was replicated in the film studios as the dining hall at Hogwarts for the Harry Potter films.
Coming down the grand staircase (where Professor McGonagall welcomed Harry in the first film), you'll enter Tom Quad , Oxford's largest and arguably most impressive quadrangle, and from here, 12th-century Christ Church Cathedral . It was originally the abbey church and then the college chapel, but it 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. 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. Look out for the 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.
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.