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christ church


i’ve lived in oxford for 5 years now and i really like it here. it is the perfect size, bigger than a village, but not a big city either. and yet there are still things i’ve never seen or places i haven’t explored. so, i thought, wouldn’t it be cool to post about oxford. in this way i could kill two birds with one stone – it would motivate me to explore the things about oxford i have always wanted to and it would allow me to share what i love or find interesting about oxford.

i will do a little research for these posts so there will hopefully always be a bit of history and actual facts about whatever i’m posting. i will also try to take as many of my own photos as possible, so that you see the oxford that i see.

my first post will be about christ church college.

christ church is one of the oldest and richest colleges in oxford. it is not only one of the most iconic colleges of the university but one of the images that represents oxford itself. seeing it for me was like seeing big ben or london bridge.


it was originally founded in 1524 by this cardinal wolsey as cardinal’s college. the college buildings took over the site of st. frideswide’s monastery, which had dated back to the earliest days of oxford. when wolsey fell from power in 1929 the college became the property of henry viii who re-founded the college in 1946 made it the cathedral of the new diocese of oxford (to this day christ church is still the diocese of oxford).


it was renamed aedes christi, “christ church” in english and, interestingly, because of its religious function within oxford, the dean of christ church is always a member of the clergy. 

 this guy is a quintessential college porter

christ church’s choir is quite famous. it is a cathedral and college choir and comprises of 12 men, 16 boys and 2 organists.   

throughout the choir’s history it has attracted famous composers and organists. they broadcast their singing regularly and you may have heard them singing the themes for mr. bean and vicar of dibley.


the coat of arms are those of cardinal wolsey. whats cool for me is the cardinal’s hat at the top and the tassels on the side.

in popular culture it is the setting of parts of evelyn waugh’s brideshead revisited and lewis carroll’s alice’s adventures in wonderland. it has also been used for some of the filming of harry potter and apparantly also the film adaptation of northern lights (or the golden compass)



famous past members include:

that bad-ass, sir christopher wren (who also redisigned the bell tower which is perhaps the iconic image of christ church. the name of the bell is great tom.)

w.h. auden

lewis carroll

there have also been 13 prime ministers who studied at christ church and numerous minsters of parliament.

christ church is very stately and to me encapsulates the intellectual majesty and bold-faced power that used to belong to england.


and yet it is not guady or over-the-top, it has a quiet and beautiful grace.


another reason why christ church resonates so greatly in my mind is the fact that a lot of imagery that represents college life and priveledged england comes from christ church or is meant to resemble it. so many films that depict priveledged or academic life in england show little snippets of christ church and it is only when you go there that you realise you have actually seen everything before.


the lawns, meadows, embankment and canal are particularly iconic and i must’ve seen a dozen films of complacent england in the 30s set in these places. so many of those scenes of the people lounging in meadows with their funny little flat hats, eating sandwiches, and people in the background punting in boats are pure christ church. and though only some of harry potter is filmed there, there is no doubt that hogwarts is influenced by it.

a big part of why the college has always held such a prominent place in my mind is because of lewis carroll. i remember reading alice in wonderland and being captivated by the story behind it: by this charles dodgson who for some reason decided to call himself lewis carroll; by this girl, alice, and her father, the dean; the fact that there was an actual sweet shop alice used to go to across the road; and by this thing called a college in a place called oxford.


alice’s old sweet shop – now a souvenir shop. bit of a pity, would’ve been nice if it was still a sweet shop… but nevertheless, the shop is still there, and thats very cool!

from the few photographs i could find i always used to picture an oxford in my mind; picture the dean in his office, alice liddell running about, and this college.

enhanced by the images of the college, an idea of an institution devoted to learning started to seem such a pure and grand concept, and christ church (and oxford) began to represent all of that to me. its grandeur elevated and established the concept of higher learning as a (dare is say it) noble thing to aspire to.

this notion is, of course, very romantic and not entirely realistic, but the impression was very strong and much of that still lingers with me today. for that reason christ church will always be special to me.

Categories: oxford
  1. Kim
    July 19, 2007 at 1:55 am

    I love old buildings (we have so few of them here in California). They always seem so solid and stately, not the transient architecture of today. I look forward to seeing more of Oxford!

  2. July 19, 2007 at 5:28 am

    Wow, wow, wow, wow. Thanks for letting me (us) live vicariously through you. I am going to have to visit England some day.

    I read Anna Quindlen’s Imagined London last year and loved it…it made me want to visit literary London and other places in England that much more.

  3. jean pierre
    July 19, 2007 at 8:15 am

    i glad you like old buildings, kim, ’cause that is one thing you will definitely be seeing more of in these oxford posts. having grown up in south africa i have as much of an appreciation for old buildings as you (mind you, i do like a lot of modern archetecture too – but there’s something special about an old building).

    i couldn’t agree with you more about how solid and stately they seem. tasteful as well, wouldn’t you say? but yes, “stately” is the word, thats exactly right.

    another thing about them is that they’re old. it seems funny to say, of course. but i just love the way they are so old – to know that they were built hundreds of years ago and have been standing ever since…!

    its a pleasure carl. i’m really glad if people enjoy it – i had a great time going around christ church and taking these photos.

    with your appreciation for tradition and antiquity, you’d definitely enjoy england – but i think you already knew that!

    london! oh dear… there is still so much to see in london that i haven’t seen… it almost puts me into a panic!

    what was anna quindlen’s book about? is it imagined as in an alternate history?

  4. July 19, 2007 at 8:58 pm

    Thank you for the tour, Jean Pierre!

  5. July 20, 2007 at 4:19 am

    I research london as a possible travel destination last year – but because of the strong Sterling, I always have problem with the budget. But Oxford just seems so beautiful – a great place to visit.


  6. jean pierre
    July 20, 2007 at 6:46 am

    i’m glad you enjoyed it, nymeth! 🙂

    dark orpheus, the pound is very strong at the moment, isn’t it? ’cause getting here is one thing, but then there’s the hotels and entrance fees and hotels…!

    i can’t imagine it’ll stay that strong forever, though.

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