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Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford

Coordinates: 51°45′00″N 1°15′17″W / 51.75°N 1.2547°W / 51.75; -1.2547
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Christ Church Cathedral
Cathedral Church of Christ
Christ Church Cathedral
Crossing tower and spire from the cloisters
Christ Church Cathedral is located in Oxfordshire
Christ Church Cathedral
Christ Church Cathedral
51°45′00″N 1°15′17″W / 51.75°N 1.2547°W / 51.75; -1.2547
LocationOxford, Oxfordshire
CountryUnited Kingdom
DenominationChurch of England
Previous denominationRoman Catholic
Functional statusCathedral
Heritage designationGrade I listed
Designated12 January 1954[1]
StyleRomanesque, Gothic
Years built1160–1200
DioceseOxford (since 1546)
Bishop(s)Steven Croft (diocesan), Gavin Collins (suffragan), Alan Wilson (suffragan)
DeanSarah Foot
SubdeanPeter Moger
PrecentorPhilippa White
Canon(s)Sally Welch (Diocesan Canon)
4 theology professors (ex officio)
ArchdeaconJonathan Chaffey
Director of musicSteven Grahl

Christ Church Cathedral is the cathedral of the Anglican diocese of Oxford, which consists of the counties of Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire. It is also the chapel of Christ Church, a college of the University of Oxford. This dual role as cathedral and college chapel is unique in the Church of England.[2] This gives the Dean of Christ Church a distinctive role as both head of Christ Church, Oxford as well as having the ecclesiastical function of an Anglican Dean.


The choir, looking towards the organ and entrance

The cathedral was originally the church of St Frideswide's Priory. The site was historically presumed to be the location of the nunnery founded by St Frideswide, the patron saint of Oxford, and the shrine is now in the Latin Chapel; originally containing relics translated at the rebuilding in 1180, it was the focus of pilgrimage from at least the 12th until the early 16th century.[3]

In 1522, the priory was surrendered to Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, who had selected it as the site for his proposed college. However, in 1529 the foundation was taken over by Henry VIII. Work stopped, but in June 1532 the college was refounded by the King. In 1546, Henry VIII transferred to it the recently created See of Oxford from Osney. The cathedral has the name of Ecclesia Christi Cathedralis Oxoniensis, given to it by Henry VIII's foundation charter.

There has been a choir at the cathedral since 1526, when John Taverner was the organist and also master of the choristers. The statutes of Wolsey's original college, initially called Cardinal College, mentioned 16 choristers and 30 singing priests.

Christ Church Cathedral is one of the smallest cathedrals in the Church of England.[4]

The nave, choir, main tower and transepts are late Norman. There are architectural features ranging from Norman to the Perpendicular style and a large rose window of the ten-part (i.e., botanical) type.

John Wesley and Charles Wesley, leaders of the Methodist revival, were ordained at Christ Church Cathedral when they were Anglicans.[5]

Memorial to John Wesley and Charles Wesley, leaders of the Methodist revival in Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, where they were ordained while they were Anglicans

Dean and chapter[edit]

As of 19 October 2023:[6]

The university's four senior theology professors are also ex officio canons residentiary:

There are also other full-time clergy of the cathedral and college, including the college chaplain, school chaplain and precentor.[6]

On 19 September 2023, the governing body of Christ Church voted to separate the ecclesiastical role of Dean from the position of Head of House of the College.[11]



The organ is a 43-rank, four-manual and pedal instrument built in 1979 by Austrian firm Rieger Orgelbau.[12]


First among the notable organists of Christ Church Cathedral is the Renaissance composer John Taverner, who was appointed as the first organist by Wolsey in 1526. Other organists (and directors of the choir) have included Basil Harwood, Thomas Armstrong, W. H. Harris, Simon Preston, Francis Grier, Nicholas Cleobury and Stephen Darlington. The post of organist is currently held by Steven Grahl. (As in many English cathedrals, the organist is also director of the choir and much of the organ playing is delegated to the sub-organist or organ scholar.)


The main choir, the Christ Church Cathedral Choir, is directed by Steven Grahl and consists of twelve adults (six professional "lay-clerks" and six student "academical clerks") and sixteen choristers (boys aged 7–13 from Christ Church Cathedral School). The choir was all male until 2019, when they welcomed alto Elizabeth Nurse as its first female clerk.[13] They sing in university term time, at Christmas and Easter, and have an extensive touring and recording programme. Former choristers include the composer William Walton.

Choir, Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford

The Cathedral Singers consists of volunteers and is currently directed by Hilary Punnett. They are usually in residence outside of term time when the choristers and academical clerks of the main choir are on holiday.

The College Choir sings every 1–2 weeks in term time and is made up of current undergraduates and postgraduates from the college.

Since September 2019, the cathedral has also had a choir for girls aged 7–14 called Frideswide Voices. The choristers are drawn from schools around Oxford, and sing Evensong once a week. The choir is directed by Helen Smee.[citation needed]


The cathedral has a ring of 12 bells hung for full circle ringing. The tenor weighs 31 long cwt 0 qr 23 lb (3,495 lb or 1,585 kg), diameter 56 inches (1,400 mm) tuned to D. It was cast in 1589 and is historically important according to the Church Buildings Council. Two other bells are also historically important, numbers 10 and 9 (16 long cwt 2 qr (1,850 lb or 840 kg) in F and 12 long cwt (1,300 lb or 600 kg) in G respectively) which were both cast c.1410.[14]

As well as the bells used for ringing there are also two other bells. The litany bell of c.1410 is also historically important. It weighs 1 long cwt 2 qr (170 lb or 80 kg) and sounds the note of G.[14] The Bourdon bell is Great Tom. This dates from 1680, weighs 124 long cwt 2 qr (13,940 lb or 6,320 kg), diameter 85 inches (2,200 mm) sounding A.[14] Great Tom is only swung "on a very small number of occasions",[15] but it is sounded every night.[16]

Notable burials[edit]

John Locke memorial engraving

Although buried at High Laver in Essex, the church has an engraved floor memorial plaque to the philosopher John Locke.[18]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Historic England. "Cathedral Church (Grade I) (1283787)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 10 May 2023.
  2. ^ "Cathedral | Christ Church, Oxford University". Chch.ox.ac.uk. Archived from the original on 5 March 2016. Retrieved 4 March 2016.
  3. ^ Levin, Carole (2013). The Heart and Stomach of a King. University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 20. ISBN 978-0-8122-2240-1.
  4. ^ "Christ Church Cathedral – Miscellany". 6 December 2004. Archived from the original on 6 December 2004. Retrieved 4 March 2016.
  5. ^ "The Wesleys in Oxford". Wesley Memorial Church. Retrieved 10 May 2023.
  6. ^ a b "Who's Who in the Cathedral | Christ Church, Oxford University". Christ Church. Retrieved 19 October 2023.
  7. ^ "Appointment of the Dean of Christ Church: 16 March 2023". Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Retrieved 28 March 2023.
  8. ^ "The Revd Dr Sally Welch appointed Diocesan Canon". Diocese of Oxford. Retrieved 3 June 2022.
  9. ^ "Dean, Cathedral Chapter & Staff". Christ Church. Archived from the original on 29 January 2010. Retrieved 22 October 2014.
  10. ^ "Canon Professor Carol Harrison – Christ Church, Oxford University". Christ Church. Archived from the original on 28 June 2018. Retrieved 28 June 2018.
  11. ^ "Christ Church votes to separate Dean position from head of college". Christ Church Cathedral. Retrieved 19 October 2023.
  12. ^ "The National Pipe Organ Register (NPOR) V2.11". Npor.org.uk. Retrieved 4 March 2016.
  13. ^ "New Chapter for Christ Church Cathedral Choir". Christ Church. Retrieved 13 November 2020.
  14. ^ a b c Dove, Ron; Baldwin, Sid (2022). "Oxford, Oxfordshire, Cath Ch of Christ". Dove’s Guide for Church Bell Ringers. Central Council Publications. Retrieved 5 October 2022.
  15. ^ "Great Tom in Tom Tower". Oxford Society of Change Ringers. Retrieved 5 October 2022.
  16. ^ Simmonds, Tricia (1989). In and Around Oxford. Bath: Unichrome. p. 4. ISBN 1-871004-02-0.
  17. ^ McGee Morganstern, Anne (2000). Gothic Tombs of Kinship in France, the Low Countries, and England. Penn State Press. p. 107. ISBN 978-0-2710-18-591 – via Google Books.
  18. ^ "Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford". Britain Express. Retrieved 6 April 2024.

External links[edit]