Christ Church is the largest of Oxford’s colleges and it was founded by Henry VIII and built under the supervision of Cardinal Wolsey.
Thirteen British prime ministers and 17 archbishops have been taught here as well as Lewis Carroll, WH Auden, John Locke, Robert Hooke, Edward de Bono, King Edward VII and King William II of the Netherlands.
It is the only educational institution in the world that is also a cathedral and it is the only college at Oxford not to have either the word college or hall in its title. The formal title of Christ Church is “The Dean, Chapter and Students of the Cathedral Church of Christ in Oxford of the Foundation of King Henry the Eighth” although it is commonly shortened to Christ Church.
It was also the college that inspired Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and it has appeared in The Golden Compass and the Harry Potter films.
What to see at Christ Church
There is a lot to see at Christ Church. The college occupies 71 hectares (175 acres) of land near the centre of Oxford and contains many notable buildings including several Grade I, Grade II* and Grade II listed buildings.
Highlights of the college include Christ Church Cathedral with its vaulted 15th-century ceiling; the Great Tudor Dining Hall where Charles I held his parliament and Elizabeth I watched a play; the famous Tom Tower, built by Sir Christopher Wren and the Great Quadrangle, which is Oxford’s largest.
Christ Church Meadow
This large flood-meadow spans from the southeast corner of Christ Church to the banks of the River Cherwell and the River Thames (which is also known as The Isis as it flows through Oxford).
During the English Civil War, the Meadow was used as a defence against parliamentarian forces and in the late 18th century, it was the site for some of England’s earliest balloon flights.
Nowadays, it is large city park and the spot where the Meadow backs onto The Isis is a popular venue for university rowing teams to train.
The Meadow Building
The Meadow Building, known to students as “Meadows”, was built in 1862–1866 in the Venetian style. It faces Christ Church Meadows and is used as the main entrance for tourists visiting the college.
The Hall Staircase
The Hall Staircase is located in the Bodley Tower. The Bodley Tower is a relatively new building dating from the 19th century and its highlight is the staircase that leads to the Great Hall. The staircase has featured in several television shows and films including the Harry Potter films.
The Great Hall
The Great Hall is the focal point of student life at Christ Church and it consists of the Buttery (a bar) and a dining hall where students are served lunch and dinner.
The Hall is said to have been Lewis Carroll’s inspiration for the Mad Hatter’s tea party and it was also the inspiration for Hogwarts Hall in the Harry Potter films.
It is important to note that the Hall is closed to visitors every day between 11.45am and 2pm to allow for students’ lunch service.
The Great Quadrangle (Tom Quad)
The Great Quadrangle, commonly known as Tom Quad, is the largest college quadrangle in Oxford.
Tom Tower, at the western end of Tom Quad, is the main feature of the quadrangle. Tom Tower is a bell tower, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, that sits over Tom Gate, the main entrance to Christ Church.
Tom Tower is named after its bell, Great Tom, which is Oxford’s loudest bell. Great Tom sounds 101 times every night at 9.05pm.
Christ Church Cathedral
Christ Church Cathedral has a unique position as being both a college chapel as well as a cathedral for a diocese that covers Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire. It is also unique in having two choirs: a cathedral choir plus a college choir made up of current undergraduates and postgraduates from the college.
The cathedral dates from the late 12th century and is one of the Church of England’s smallest cathedrals.
It is well worth a look and the building consists of architectural styles that include both Norman and Perpendicular styles. It is noted for its stained glass windows and its vaulted ceiling.
Like the cathedral, the Cloister was originally part of the 12th-century Priory of St Frideswide. If the Cloister looks familiar, it is because the scene from the Harry Potter film where Harry is shown his father’s Quidditch trophy was filmed here.
Peckwater Quadrangle, known to students simply as “Peck”, is a Grade I listed building built on the site of a medieval inn run by the Peckwater family. The buildings on the north, east and western sides of the quadrangle date from the early 1700s and are some of the earliest examples of Palladian architecture in England.
Christ Church Picture Gallery
Christ Church Picture Gallery is an art museum with a collection that is considered one of the United Kingdom’s most important private collections.
The gallery’s collection is noted for its Italian art from the 14th to 18th centuries. Highlights include The Butcher’s Shop by Annibale Carracci and the Wounded Centaur by Filippino Lippi as well as drawings by Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo and Albrecht Dürer.
Visiting Christ Church
Christ Church attracts more than half a million visitors each year, more than any other college at the University of Oxford.
Because Christ Church is a working institution access to some areas may be restricted to ensure that students can go about their studies without being seen as a sideshow attraction by tourists and from time to time some areas of the college may be closed to the public for private events. Furthermore, the Great Hall is usually closed at lunchtime so you should plan your visit accordingly.
The standard admission ticket gives you access to the cathedral, quads, cloister, hall and hall staircase. Prices are slightly higher during July and August. The standard admission ticket does not include entry to the Christ Church Picture Gallery (see below for details about visiting the Picture Gallery) but it does let you get into the Picture Gallery for half price.
You can either buy your tickets online up to one week prior to the date you visit with tickets for the following week released every Thursday. Alternately you can buy your tickets in person from the Meadow Gate ticket office.
Christ Church can get very busy during summer and also during weekends at other times of the year. On very busy days there may be long queues to buy tickets and it is best to buy your tickets online so you can avoid queuing up to buy tickets on the day.
The main visitor entrance is through the Meadow Gate (in the Meadow Building on the Broad Walk) but disabled visitors should enter through Tom Gate (below Tom Tower). Please note that not all areas of the college are accessible to visitors with a wheelchair.
In order to control crowds and minimise the impact of tourism on the students’ day-to-day college experience, a one-way system operates where all visitors (except disabled visitors) enter via the Meadow Gate entrance and depart through Canterbury Gate.
Furthermore, there are certain areas that are private and off-limits to visitors. These areas are clearly signposted.
Visiting the Christ Church Picture Gallery
The Christ Church Picture Gallery is within the walls of Christ Church and the best entrance will depend whether you will be just visiting the Picture Gallery or if you plan on visiting the Picture Gallery along with the rest of Christ Church. If you are visiting the Picture Gallery without visiting the rest of the college, then you should enter through the Canterbury Gate (near Oriel Square) but if you are visiting the Picture Gallery as well as the rest of the college, then you should enter via the main public entrance at Meadow Gate.
Admission to the gallery costs £4 but is £2 if you have a ticket to visit Christ Church and free for visitors with a National Art Pass.
Guided tours of the gallery take place every Monday at 2.30pm. These tours are included in the admission price.
The gallery is reached via a narrow flight of stairs and it is not wheelchair accessible.