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Visiting Keble College Chapel, Oxford, England: cathedral-sized building by William Butterfield

Updated on February 26, 2016
Flag of England
Flag of England | Source
Keble College, Oxford
Keble College, Oxford | Source
Portrait drawing, by Jane Fortescue Seymour, of William Butterfield, architect
Portrait drawing, by Jane Fortescue Seymour, of William Butterfield, architect | Source
Map location of Oxford, in Oxfordshire.
Map location of Oxford, in Oxfordshire. | Source

Containing Holman Hunt's 'Light of the World'

This remarkable neo-Gothic chapel building was opened in 1876, with the College itself having been inaugurated in 1870, as a memorial to the Anglican Churchman John Keble (1792-1866).

Some history and features

Built to a cathedral-like, enormous scale, the chapel's (and College's) architect was William Butterfield (1814-1900), who was known for his use of red brick, and who also worked on buildings at Rugby School and Exeter School, and elsewhere. Architect Butterfield regarded himself as a traditionalist Anglican and his monumental style in architecture coalesced with his beliefs in immutable faith norms, widely held in the Victorian age.

Politely, the material pattern employed at Keble is known as polychromatic brickwork; less politely, this style was referred to by critics as 'holy zebra'. The red brick style had its many critics, including among residents of Oxford. (The land on which Keble College was built had previously belonged to St John's College, some undergraduates from which subsequently tried to engage in clandestine demolition of the College, one brick at a time! Oxford Colleges are sometimes known for the rivalry which arises between them and relations between the student bodies of Keble and St John's Colleges were no exception to this tendency, especially in the early years of the College's existence).

Interestingly, in comparison with the older, mainly stone-built, Colleges of Oxford University, Keble's red brick design was at first regarded as having broken rather radically with tradition. Today, its lines would be counted as being among the more 'traditional'-looking College designs.

Inside the cavernous Chapel, the 'Light of the World' masterpiece of Pre-Raphaelite artist William Holman Hunt (1827-1910) is on permanent display, and is one of Oxford's popular visitor attractions. The Chapel is also a regular venue for concerts.

The sheer size and scale of the Chapel is arguably symbolic of the strength of the links of the College with the Church of England, particularly in its early years. The College was especially noted for the presence of trainee clergy among its student body.

Some College alumni

Included among the many prominent alumni of Keble College are the following: Anglican Bishop of London Arthur Winnington-Ingram (1858-1946), former Editor of The Independent Andreas Whittam Smith (1937-), composer Sir Thomas Armstrong (1898-1994), military historian John Terraine (1921-2003); Canadians will note the presence of former Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams (1949-) among the alumni.

Also worth seeing

In Oxford itself, its numerous visitor attractions include Oxford Castle, the Bridge of Sighs, the Bodleian Library, the Radcliffe Camera and Sheldonian Theatre.

Bladon churchyard, (distance: 13 kilometres), located near Blenheim Palace, has the grave-site of Sir Winston Churchill.


How to get there : Continental Airlines flies from New York Newark to London Heathrow Airport, where car rental is available. Distance from Heathrow Airport to Oxford : 77 kilometres. Oxford links by rail with London Paddington station. Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. For up to date information, please check with the airline or your travel agent.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

For your visit, these items may be of interest


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