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Merton College Chapel, Oxford
Merton College Chapel viewed from just north of the Meadow
Merton College Chapel viewed from just north of the Meadow

Location Oxford, England
Country United Kingdom
Denomination Church of England
Website Official website
Founder(s) Walter de Merton
Style Gothic
Groundbreaking c1290
Completed 1294 (choir)
transepts (1424-5)
tower 1448-51
Diocese Oxford
Chaplain(s) Simon Jones
Director of music Peter Phillips
Organist(s) Benjamin Nicholas

Merton College Chapel is the chapel church of Merton College, Oxford.



On September 13, 1266 the church of St John the Baptist was granted to the scholars of Merton College by the Abbey of Reading.[1] However, by the late 1280s it had fallen into "a ruinous condition",[2] and Merton college accounts show that work on a new church on the same site began in about 1290. The present choir with its enormous east window was complete by 1294. The window is an important example (because it is so well dated) of how the strict geometrical conventions of the Early English Period of architecture were beginning to be relaxed at the end of the 13th century.[3] The south transept was built in the 14th century, the north transept in the early years of the 15th. The great tower was complete by 1450. The chapel replaced the parish church of St. John and continued to serve as the parish church as well as the chapel until 1891. It is for this reason that it is generally referred to as Merton Church in older documents, and that there is a north door into the street as well as doors into the college. This dual role also probably explains the enormous scale of the chapel, which in its original design was to have a nave and two aisles extending to the west.[4]

In the early 1500s the college appears to have abandoned plans to extend the chapel, as the land on which the nave would have been built was leased in 1517 to Richard Foxe (c1448-1528), Bishop of Winchester, founder of Corpus Christi College, next door to Merton.[5]



The Reformation did not leave Merton Chapel untouched. During the reign of the zealously Protestant Edward VI (1547–1553), traditional forms of worship began to change, and it was most likely at this time that the medieval stained glass was removed. However, Edward died young, and during the reign of his sister Mary I (1553–1558) Catholicism was restored, enthusiastically embraced by the college. Soon afterwards, under Elizabeth I, Protestantism was once again enforced and Merton college found itself facing a siege against Elizabeth's Archbishop of Canterbury, Matthew Parker for three weeks, in defence of the old religion.[6]

Modern era

A new choral foundation was established in 2007, providing for a choir of sixteen undergraduate and graduate choral scholars singing from October 2008. The choir is directed by Peter Phillips, currently director of the Tallis Scholars, and has given recent performances at Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, and the Temple Church, London.[7]

A spire from the chapel has resided in Pavilion Garden VI of the University of Virginia since 1928, when "it was given to the University to honor Jefferson's educational ideals".[8]



See also


External links


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