The University Church of St Mary the Virgin saw its extensive restoration project completed in time for Christmas, with a mainly positive reaction from students and the congregation.
The conservation work to the church building, parts of which date back to the 13th century, concentrated on the maintenance of both exterior and interior stone, woodwork and windows and a newly painted celure was added to the ceiling.
Particular care was taken over the conservation of the Old Library, which was built in 1320. Considered the first non-college building of the university it provided a physical centre point for the construction of other university buildings. New disabled access has also been installed.
The preservation of the historic church site, which housed the trial of the 16th century Oxford Martyrs, was funded by a £3.4 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The money was given on the condition that particular focus will be placed on educational schemes telling the heritage story of the University’s link with the Church.
Project managers worked to keep the church and its famous 13th century tower, a popular tourist attraction, open to both the congregation and the 300,000 tourists who visit throughout the year.
The Revd Canon Brian Mountford commented, “Although there still remain a few loose ends to tie up, the Church is substantially complete and was ready in time for the Christmas celebrations.”
He went on to stress the importance of the church to the daily life of the university, explaining, “While the Church is foremost a place of worship attended by a cross-section of age groups, it remains an important concert venue, is used by the Saïd Business School for degree ceremonies, and holds the Bampton Divinity lectures. Most of the congregation is University connected, and there are quite a lot of undergraduate and graduate attendees.”
The project encountered no major problems, despite fears that a heating failure on Christmas Eve would threaten services on Christmas Day. However, this was fixed at the last minute by an emergency engineer.
The congregation are said to be extremely pleased with the improvements, with many commenting on the beauty of the refurbished Church. Altogether, almost 800 people attended the Crib Service, Midnight Mass, and Christmas Day Services.
David Bagg, a third year Classics student from Balliol recognised the important of the recent preservation work. He said, “It’s brilliant that the University and Oxford Thinking Campaign benefactors have worked so hard to protect the University’s Christian heritage. The University Church (where OXFAM was founded in 1942) is now in a great place to amplify that heritage by serving the hungry, homeless and hopeless.”