The University Church of St Mary the Virgin, is to see “its biggest restoration since the late 19th century”, made possible by a £3.4 million grant awarded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The church, situated on the High Street and backing onto Radcliffe Square, was historically the centre of the University and is still the location of formal University Christian worship.
Revd Dr William Beaver, Associate Priest of the Church said the restoration “will be a landmark in the history of this Church and Oxford University.”
The Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund, Stuart McLeod, commented, “This inspirational and important project showcases our heritage at its very best, by providing the local community and visitors with a special look into the past.”
The church’s Vicar, Revd Canon Brian Mountford expressed his delight at the funding, adding, “It comes after long and careful consultation with local people, national bodies, and professional advisers as to what is best for this iconic Oxford building.
“In the process we have been helped to think about widening our educational outreach as well as the conservation of the fabric.”
The church, which offers panoramic views from the tallest of Oxford’s famous spires, is a major tourist attraction, with 300,000 people visiting the site last year alone.
Revd Beaver said he wants the church to become “the first stop on the tourist trial with a hologram exhibition about the history of the University, the town and the church…and restoring the church to its former glory.”
Many students are members of the church, which is also home to a choir consisting both of students and other local singers.
St Mary’s hosts University Services which this term include a choral evensong sung by the combined choirs of eleven colleges in fifth week and a university sermon by the writer Philip Pullman the following week.
The church boasts a rich historical heritage and was the centre of the University in medieval times. The Old Congregation House, built adjoining it in the early fourteenth century, served as the location for the University’s first library.
St Mary’s counts John Henry Newman, who later famously converted to Catholicism, among its former clergy and was also the site for the trial of the Oxford Martyrs in 1555 and in different circumstances, the founding of OXFAM in 1942.
Revd Beaver noted that some of the damage which has accumulated over more than seven hundred years of the present building’s history would be left as it is, saying, “We decided not to repair the bullet holes left by Cromwell’s troops on the façade of the University Church – they are too much a part of Oxford’s history!”