Hertford College Chapel was completed in 1908 by Thomas Graham Jackson, the architect responsible for many of the college’s iconic buildings, including the spiral staircase to hall and the ‘Bridge of Sighs’.
Jackson considered the Chapel to be the best of his architectural achievements. Before our current home was built, the college Chapel was just next door in what is now the library. This original Chapel was built by Principal Newton in the 18th century to mark the founding of Hertford College, the successor to the medieval Hart Hall. To find out more about this period, see Hertford history.
Tower and portico
The Chapel fits snugly into the south-east corner of Old Buildings Quad, nestled between All Souls College, our library and the ‘cottage’ – another feature of Principal Newton’s architectural scheme for the new Hertford College.
The corner tower is octagonal and capped with a copper dome. It houses a single bell that is sounded before Choral Evensong and Eucharist on Sundays and Thursdays respectively, and before most formal dinners.
The portico is the covered entrance that houses a memorial to the 71 members of the college who died in the Second World War and the chapel’s foundation stone. Above the door into the chapel is carved ‘domus mea, domus orationis,’ which translates as ‘my house is a house of prayer’ (Isaiah 56.7).
The ante-chapel is the entrance hall of the Chapel, with a black-and-white marble floor that continues through the building. The ante-chapel’s most prominent feature is the Tyndale Window, to the right as you enter. This window commemorates William Tyndale (1494–1536), a scholar of Magdalen Hall (which became Hertford College in 1874), who translated the first English Bible from the original languages, and was executed for his troubles. The translators of the so-called Authorised Bible (often known as the King James Version) relied heavily on Tyndale’s work for their texts. Find the switch on the side of the window’s case to light it up!
Also here is the door to the tower and organ loft, the notice board, prayer board where prayer requests can be left, and bowl of holy water.
As you enter through the archway from the ante-chapel, the Principal’s stall is immediately to the right and the Dean’s stall to the left. The arrangement of stalls and pews facing each other across the aisle is common in most Oxford college chapels. From the body of the chapel, looking west towards the ante-chapel, the organ loft can be seen with its magnificent carved case. The organ was built by Alfred Hunter in 1930 with three manuals, 1518 pipes and a distinctive romantic sound.
At the east end of the aisle is the ambo, or lectern, donated by alumni in 1868, which originally stood next-door in the former chapel (now the library). Sermons are preached from here on Sunday evenings. Past the ambo, up the step, the floor in front of the sanctuary is decorated with three coloured marbles: Cork Red in the centre and Verde Antico (the marble of Byzantium) to either side.
To the left is the icon of the Baptism of Christ which was painted to commemorate the life and ministry of the Reverend Michael Chantry, Chaplain of Hertford College 1961–2001. There is a place for lighting candles as a symbol of prayer in front of the icon. On the wall behind the icon are eight memorials to past Principals of the college.
To the right is the memorial for the 98 members of the college who died in the First World War. In front of the memorial is a 1907 Blüthner salon-grand piano in a rosewood case. The plaque on the side of the piano commemorates John Stubley, a former student who enjoyed playing it.
The floor of the sanctuary is decorated with more coloured marble. The central circle before the altar is in Rosso Antico, surplus from the marble donated by Greece for the Byron Statue at Hyde Park Corner.
The altar is the focus of the sanctuary, its frontal designed by Jackson, the chapel’s architect. Behind it rises the reredos in white Carrara marble by George Frampton depicting the crucifixion of Christ. To the left of the altar is a copy by Mark Alexander of Caravaggio’s painting The Taking of Christ, depicting Judas’ kiss at the arrest of Jesus. The rightmost figure in the painting is a self-portrait of Caravaggio.