The University Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Oxford has received £422,000 from the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund. The grant will go toward replacing the church’s nave and the restoration of stonework.

Reverend Dr. William Lamb told Oxford Mail that: “like many churches and historic buildings, our income dropped considerably during the pandemic as we were unable to welcome visitors for a long period of time, so without this grant from the Culture Recovery Fund, these vital repairs would have been impossible.”

While the exact origins of the church are nebulous, by the middle of the 11th century the church was standing. Over the years, St. Mary’s has played a large role in the life of Oxford University, and since the 13th century, it has functioned as the university church. In the early 14th century, the University built the Congregation House, which was converted into Vaults & Garden café in the 1990s, as well as the library above it, which, until the construction of Duke Humphrey’s library, served as the library for the University.

Furthermore, between the late 15th and early 16th centuries Oxford University paid to completely remodel the church. Gradually, as the University grew, and new buildings were added, graduations and the university government were moved away from St. Mary’s; however, a rapid increase in undergraduate numbers rendered the existing church’s space too small during important sermons and lectures. So, in 1827 the University installed new galleries on the west and north sides of the church. The west gallery still stands.

Given the Church’s long history, many restorations and remodels have taken place over the years. In the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries the tower required frequent repair, and was fully repaired in the 1890s completing the Buckler Brother’s re-Gothicisation of the church. The most recent restoration took place between the 1930s and 1970s during which the interior of the church was gradually reordered.

The grant funding the restoration was created to tackle the issues facing the UK’s most loved cultural organisations and heritage sites. The Culture Recovery Fund, or CRF, dispersed nearly £2 billion in three installments to over 5,000 different organisations across the country.

Estimated to have supported 75,000 jobs in its first round of funding, the CRF’s second round of support supported 52,000 full-time jobs as well as 100,000 freelancers.

Having aided nationally significant organisations including the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal Albert Hall, and more locally significant organisations such as the Black Country Living Museum with its first two grants, the third round of the CRF is committed not only to supporting the full reopening of heritage sites and organisations following the pandemic, but also to the restoration of sites at risk in order to keep them in good condition and assist the workforce that cares for them.

Cultural Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “Our record-breaking Culture Recovery Fund has helped thousands of organisations across the country to survive and protected hundreds of thousands of jobs. Now, as we look forward to full reopening, this funding shows our commitment to stand behind culture and heritage all the way through the pandemic. This round of funding will provide a further boost to help organisations build back better and ensure we can support more of those in need – safeguarding our precious culture and heritage, and the jobs this supports.”

Image Credit: Tony Hisgett/CC BY 2.0 via flickr


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