Christ Church College – Oxford University

Christ Church may be the most recognizable of Oxford University’s many colleges. The college’s picturesque elements and scenes have been featured in paintings, postcards, and movies.

Christ Church is one of the largest of the University’s colleges. An added distinction is that Christ Church Cathedral, with its world-renowned choir, is not only the chapel for the college, but also serves at the cathedral church for the Diocese of Oxford.

Thomas Cardinal Wolsey was at the height of his power—serving as the Archbishop of York and as a chief minister to King Henry VIII— when he founded Cardinal’s College in 1524. Unable to secure Papal approval for Henry’s divorce from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, Wolsey lost the king’s favor as well as his college; Henry took over the property in 1529.

It was called King Henry VIII’s College for a short period, but then the king re-founded the college in 1546 and gave it a new name, Aedes Christi, which is Latin for Christ Church. Christ Church owes much of its grandeur to Wolsey’s original plan, which called for the college buildings and chapel to surround a large quadrangle (“Tom Quad,” the largest in Oxford).

More than 100 years later, Christopher Wren’s design for Tom Tower—its Gothic style matches the look of the college—completed the cardinal’s scheme. Tom Tower, which was completed in 1682, holds Great Tom, the seven-ton bell that tolls 101 times each night at 9:05. The number honors the original 101 scholars of the college.

In addition to numerous politicians and statesmen, Christ Church has produced more British prime ministers than any other Oxford–or Cambridge–college. The alumni list also includes famous authors, scientists, philosophers, and artists. Charles Dodgson (better known by his pen name, Lewis Carroll) was not only a student, but also taught mathematics at Christ Church. The Alice who inspired his most famous stories was Alice Liddell, daughter of Henry Liddell, Dean of Christ Church.

Another popular literary fantasy has relied on classic architectural elements found in Christ Church to bring its stories to the screen. Having doubled as the Hogwarts locale of the sorting ceremony and various feasts, the dining hall of Christ Church, with its splendid 16th Century hammerbeam roof, may seem familiar to fans of the Harry Potter movies.

Christ Church Cathedral is built on the site of a Saxon church founded by Oxford’s patron saint, Saint Frideswide. Today’s church combines Norman (including the nave and choir) and late Gothic elements.

The church choir consists of 16 boys and 12 men; six of the men are undergraduate students. The choir sings for Sunday services and for Evensong services daily, Tuesday through Saturday.

Be sure to visit our pages on Oxford and University Church of St Mary the Virgin for more Oxford pictures and information.

by Katie Calvert