Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford

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Christ Church Cathedral
Cathedral Church of Christ
Cathedral, Christ Church, Oxford, from the cloisters. - - 187944.jpg
Crossing tower and spire from the cloisters
Oxfordshire UK location map.svg
Red pog.svg
Christ Church Cathedral
51°45′00″N1°15′17″W / 51.75°N 1.2547°W / 51.75; -1.2547 Coordinates: 51°45′00″N1°15′17″W / 51.75°N 1.2547°W / 51.75; -1.2547
Location Oxford, Oxfordshire
Country United Kingdom
Denomination Church of England
Previous denomination Roman Catholic
Functional status Cathedral
Heritage designationGrade I listed
Designated12 January 1954 [1]
Style Romanesque, Gothic
Years built1160–1200
Province Canterbury
Diocese Oxford (since 1546)
Dean Vacant
Subdean Richard Peers
Precentor Philippa White (minor canon)
Canon(s) 1 vacancy (diocesan canon)
4 theology professors (ex officio)
Archdeacon Jonathan Chaffey
Director of music Steven 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]



choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford Christ Church Cathedral Interior 2, Oxford, UK - Diliff.jpg
choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford
The choir, looking towards the organ and entrance Christ Church Cathedral Interior 1, Oxford, UK - Diliff.jpg
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.

Dean and chapter

As of 1 December 2020: [5]

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. [5]



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 Choir, Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford.png
Choir, Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford

The Cathedral Singers consists of volunteers and is currently directed by James Potter. 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

John Locke memorial engraving John Locke memorial stone.jpg
John Locke memorial engraving

See also

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  2. "Cathedral | Christ Church, Oxford University". Archived from the original on 5 March 2016. Retrieved 4 March 2016.
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  11. Diocese of Oxford — New Deacons Archived 16 January 2018 at the Wayback Machine (Accessed 16 January 2018)
  12. "The National Pipe Organ Register (NPOR) V2.11". Retrieved 4 March 2016.
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  15. "Great Tom in Tom Tower". Oxford Society of Change Ringers. Retrieved 5 October 2022.
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