Martyrs' Memorial, Oxford

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Coordinates: 51°45′18″N 1°15′32″W / 51.75509°N 1.25901°W / 51.75509; -1.25901

Martyrs' Memorial, Oxford

The Martyrs' Memorial is a stone monument positioned at the intersection of St Giles', Magdalen Street and Beaumont Street, just outside Balliol College, Oxford, England. It commemorates the 16th-century Oxford Martyrs.

The Martyrs' Memorial, looking back towards Balliol College from Magdalen Street
The lower section of the Martyrs' Memorial, looking towards the Taylor Institution


Designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, the monument was completed in 1843 after two years' work, having replaced "a picturesque but tottering old house". The Victorian Gothic memorial, whose design dates from 1838, has been likened to the steeple of a cathedral, though it was consciously patterned on the Eleanor crosses erected by King Edward I between 1290 and 1294 to the memory of his wife, Queen Eleanor of Castile (1241-1290). The three statues of Thomas Cranmer, Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley are by Henry Weekes.[1] The monument is listed at Grade II*.[2]

The inscription on the base of the Martyrs' Memorial reads:

To the Glory of God, and in grateful commemoration of His servants, Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer, Prelates of the Church of England, who near this spot yielded their bodies to be burned, bearing witness to the sacred truths which they had affirmed and maintained against the errors of the Church of Rome, and rejoicing that to them it was given not only to believe in Christ, but also to suffer for His sake; this monument was erected by public subscription in the year of our Lord God, MDCCCXLI.

Cuthbert Bede (in his novel The Adventures of Mr Verdant Green) wrote about the setting of the Martyrs' Memorial thus in 1853:

He who enters the city, as Mr Green did, from the Woodstock Road, and rolls down the shady avenue of St Giles', between St John's College and the Taylor Buildings, and past the graceful Martyrs' Memorial, will receive impressions such as probably no other city in the world could convey.

The actual site of the execution is close by in Broad Street, just outside the line of the old city walls. The site is marked by a cross sunk in the road.


The monument was built 300 years after the events of the English Reformation it commemorates. Its origins lay in opposition to the 19th century Oxford Movement, known also the Tractarian Movement, led by John Keble, John Henry Newman and others. Alarmed at the Anglo-Catholic realignment the movement was bringing into the Church of England, the Rev. Charles Pourtales Golightly and other Anglican clergy raised the funds to erecting the monument, reflecting the university's Protestant profession and traditional anti-Catholic position.[3]

The condition of the Memorial deteriorated in the 20th century, but it underwent a full restoration in 2003, funded by Oxford City Council and the Oxford Preservation Trust.[4]

Popular rumour is that in the past students have misled foreign tourists about the nature of the Memorial and convinced them it was the spire of an underground church, which could be toured for a modest fee. This would result in the tourists venturing down a flight of stairs near the Memorial which actually led to the public toilets.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Stevens T. 'Weekes, Henry (1807–1877)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004)". Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2008-03-19. 
  2. ^ "Images of England: The Martyrs' Memorial". English Heritage. Retrieved 2008-03-19. 
  3. ^ "The Martyrs' Memorial at Oxford". The Journal of Ecclesiastical History. Retrieved 2008-08-21. 
  4. ^ "Martyrs' Memorial". Archived from the original on 2009-09-25. 
  5. ^ "Sightseeing". Retrieved 24 May 2011.