St Peter's Chapel

The Chapel

The college Chapel is a place of worship with an open and inclusive ethos, as well as being used for many other purposes by the college community, such as musical rehearsals and concerts, meetings and lectures, plays and other artistic events, social events and dinners.

Chapel services are for the whole college community and not just for Christians. Some who come to Chapel have a clear Christian faith and commitment and others do not. Some people come to Chapel because they are interested to see what a Christian service is like and enjoy being able to come and go and take time to reflect without any pressure. Many people enjoy the beauty of the music and the liturgy and like the space to think about issues to do with faith and human experience raised in the sermons.

Everyone is welcome to attend and you are free to sit quietly – there is no obligation to join in with any hymns or prayers. College chapels have a long history of being places where people have space to explore their beliefs.

Besides services, the college Chaplain, Revd Dr Elizabeth Pitkethly, also hosts a range of events throughout term, details of which are below. She also acts as a member of the college's Welfare team.

Protocols on the use of the Chapel are available here.

You can download a copy of the latest Term Card here.

The main services of the week in full term are on Thursday and Sunday evenings. The Thursday service is at 6.15 pm and the Sunday service at 6 pm. Both are usually based on the traditional Anglican service of Choral evensong (Book of Common Prayer) and are led by the Chaplain, the Revd Dr Elizabeth Pitkethly. These services include excellent music by the college’s magnificent choir, a psalm, two readings from the Bible, some prayers; on Sundays there is also a short sermon (ten minutes) and two hymns and on Thursday there is one hymn and no sermon. 

The Sunday sermons relate to a theme for each term. They are delivered by the Chaplain and by a range of speakers from a variety of different Christian denominations (for example Baptist, Roman Catholic). Last years’ speakers included local clergy (such as Charlie Cleverly, Rector of St Aldates church, Oxford and Peter Groves from St Mary Magdalen), academics (such as Dr Andrew Gosler, University Research Lecturer in Ornithology and Conservation; Fellow in Human Sciences), distinguished professionals such as Richard Godden, partner of Linklaters, and Dr Elaine Storkey (writer and broadcaster). 

In addition to these sung services of choral evensong the following services take place:

Compline takes place twice a term (usually weeks 2 & 6) on a Tuesday evening at 9 pm (see the Chapel term card for dates). This is a quiet reflective service often known as ‘night prayer’ which lasts for between twenty and twenty five minutes. It’s a good service to try out as you can just come in, take a candle if you wish and sit and reflect quietly on the words and music. Most people like to come and sit up the front in what are called the choir stalls but you are welcome to come and sit where you like! Traditionally compline is the service that takes place in monastic orders at the end of each day in which the community comes to God at the end of the day, asking for his peace, help and protection as the night begins. 

During full term there are also two services of Holy Communion: at 9 am on Sundays, followed by an informal breakfast in the Chaplain’s room, and at 12.30 pm on Thursdays. These services last for approximately 25 minutes.

Prayer

Please let the Chaplain know in confidence of anything you would like prayer for. 

New Testament and Psalms

The Gideons are happy to make available Gideon New Testaments and Psalms to any student who might find it helpful to have a copy. There are some at the back of Chapel which you are welcome to take.

Each term there are two events: normally there is a social meal before Compline in week 2 and later in the term either a social meal or a guest speaker and a meal. All events are relaxed and informal.

The aim is twofold: for students to come together and for those curious about the Christian faith to come along to a one off event and get to know some of the other Christians in college. If you would like to come to the events, it helps if you let the Chaplain know in advance so there is enough food. However, you can also just turn up and hopefully you won’t t go hungry. These events provide a good way for postgraduates and undergraduates to meet each other.

For those interested in finding out more about the Christian faith, or in thinking through their own faith issues, do contact the Chaplain. She is very happy to talk with anyone and, if appropriate, put you in touch with people who might be able to help answer specific questions about the faith. From time to time there are small informal groups preparing students for Christian baptism and confirmation.   

The Chaplain has contacts through the University Chaplaincies with different faith chaplaincy groups, so if you would like to find out about different chaplaincy groups, do contact her (there are chaplains for many faith groups and the Chaplain can put you in touch easily). In particular, members of non-Christian faiths are very welcome to introduce themselves to the Chaplain and to attend any of the Chaplain’s events, such as weekly tea and cake!

Tea and cake on Thursdays in Full term in the Chaplain’s office Besse 5 from 3.00-4.30 pm. Everyone is welcome to come along. We make tea (and coffee) and chat – all sorts of people come, not just the religious ones! It is primarily an open and friendly time to meet each other.

The Chapel was designed by Basil Champneys as the parish church of St Peter-le-Bailey and dates from 1874. It was Champneys’ first building in Oxford, and demonstrates his capable but restrained command of the Gothic style.

The building replaces two previous churches which had served the same parish. They were located on what is now Bonn Square at the end of New Inn Hall Street. The name ‘le Bailey’ derives from the proximity of these original churches to the bailey of Oxford Castle. 

The Norman church, known as St Peter-at-the-Castle, was destroyed when the tower collapsed in 1726. Rebuilt in 1740 in the Italianate style, the church was demolished in 1874 to relieve traffic congestion and rebuilt further north on its present site.

A few relics remain in the chapel from earlier churches, notably several memorial brasses, the earliest to John Sprunt (1419) sometime mayor of Oxford; a 16th-century parish chest; fragments of carved masonry from the Norman church; an oil painting depicting the ‘Sacrifice of Isaac’ (Anon. late 17th century), and the font, a 19th-century copy of the 11th-century original in Winchester Cathedral.

The parish church was renovated for use as a chapel in the late 1920s. Most of the newer decorative fittings are memorials to the Chavasse family. The oak cross once used to mark the grave of Noel Chavasse can be seen on the north wall of the chapel. 

Noel was sent to France in 1914 as a Medical Officer to the Liverpool Scottish Regiment. He was awarded a Military Cross in 1915 and became one of the greatest heroes of the First World War, being the only person in the conflict to be twice awarded the Victoria Cross – for gallantry at Guillemont, France (1916) and heroism at Wieltje, Belgium (1917).

His medals, along with those awarded to his siblings, two of whom were also awarded the Miltary Cross, can be found in two display cases either side of Noel's grave cross.

A memorial to Francis Bernard Chavasse, who also served as a Medical Officer in the Great War, can be seen close by.

The memorial panel (1932) on the North Wall is a bas-relief depicting Bishop Francis James Chavasse at prayer. It is a cast taken from the original by David Evans in Liverpool Cathedral.

The oak and limewood reredos is a memorial to Edith Chavasse, wife of Francis James Chavasse, and dates from 1929. It is dedicated to wives and mothers. Designed by F.E. Howard and carved in the workshops of A.R. Mowbray & Co, it is divided into five niches. The centre depicts the resurrection, the others showing scenes from the life of St Peter.

The pastoral staff used by Christopher Chavasse when he was Bishop of Rochester can be seen to the left of the altar. It was given to Christopher by his sisters, the twins May and Marjorie Chavasse, in memory of their brother Aidan, who died during the First World War.

The pulpit, from the same designers and workshops, is a memorial to Bishop Francis James Chavasse. The gilded inscription records his last public message, dictated three months before his death in 1928: ‘Hold fast to Prayer; honour the Holy Spirit; be faithful to Christ; believe that God reigns.’

East Window – Life of St Peter: Chavasse Memorial (1964)

This glass is an important early work by major British stained glass artist John Hayward (1929-2007). He made his reputation with the striking window in St Bride’s Fleet Street, London, shortly before this. His other major work is the West Window of Sherborne Abbey.

Hayward’s figures are typically elongated and ascetic, with faces like Greek masks. He not only designed but made all his windows in his distinctive style.

The east window is dominated by the central figure of St Peter, who is holding the tower of St Peter-le-Bailey in his left hand. He is surrounded by scenes from his life, as well as by various motifs that evoke the life of Christopher Chavasse, in whose memory the window was installed, including a set of Olympic rings, his tin leg, his Military Cross, and his cigarette holder.

West Window – Christ with Nine Apostles (1874)

The window shows ten figures under architectural canopies designed by the major Victorian stained glass artist Henry Holiday (1839-1927), made by Heaton Butler and Bayne, set on a background of plain glazing in 1964. The design and execution is conventional late 19th-century work.

The heraldic devices are of the eight Rectors who had served the church since its consecration.

South Chancel Window – ‘In His hands the seeds will grow’ (1943)

This masterpiece of stained glass was made by the Hungarian artist, Ervin Bossányi (1891-1975). It was not a commissioned work, but was made by the artist ‘to keep his hand in’.

The artist’s description of the subject matter is inscribed on the reverse of the design:

‘A mother distributes the fruits of the earth. She feeds the birds, and gives some fruit to her young son. The boy offers the fruit to Christ, and as He holds it in his hand it starts to grow and becomes a beautiful plant’.

The window has been exhibited widely. It was given a permanent home at St Peter’s by the beneficiaries of the artist’s estate, in memory of Ervin and Wilma Bossányi, with its installation in 1997 made possible through the generosity of Mr and Mrs Robin Hodgson.