You are here

Chapel History

The old chapel

Royal Licence for a chapel at Queen’s was obtained in 1349, but building seems not to have begun until 1364. It was finished in 1382; drawings and engravings show that it was designed in a late Decorated style, with flowing window-tracery resembling windows still remaining at Witney, Ducklington and other churches in south-west Oxfordshire. A sumptuous ante-chapel in the Perpendicular style, more than doubling the size of the building, was added by the benefactor Robert Langton in 1516-19.

The most important relics of the old chapel are the four stained-glass windows from Langton’s work, containing large figures of saints and dated 1518, which are re-used on the most westerly windows on the north and south sides of the present chapel. Some fifteenth-century monumental bronzes, including a fine figure for Robert Langton, are re-set around the inside of the apse. Two finely-engraved brasses, with complex iconography, for Henry Robinson and Henry Airay (both died 1616) are the work of Richard Haydock, the ‘sleeping preacher’ whose pretence of giving sermons in a state of trance was exposed by James I. The fine brass lectern, inscribed Aquila Regina Avium et Avis Reginensium (‘The eagle, queen of birds and bird of Queen’s’), was bequeathed by John Pettie in 1653 but not made until after the Restoration. The late seventeenth-century altar rails are now in Charlton-on-Otmoor parish church.

The present chapel

The rebuilding of Queen’s on grand Baroque lines was initiated at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Nicholas Hawksmoor’s original plans were, in H.M. Colin’s words, ‘of so visionary and grandiose a character that their execution can never have been seriously contemplated’. They envisaged a huge quadrangle dominated by a grand oval chapel with a surrounding colonnade, on the site of the present hall/chapel range.

In the event a more conventional, though still very stately, scheme was adopted, with hall and chapel axially aligned and separated by the passage between the front and back quadrangles. Building of the new chapel began in 1713, and on 1 November 1719 it was consecrated. The design of both the interior and the exterior (though not the internal decoration) is essentially Hawksmoor’s. It consists of a simple rectangle, with a full-height eastern apse. Internally the walls are articulated with pilasters, which rise to an elaborate coffered ceiling. Over the sanctuary is a circular painting of the Ascension by Sir James Thornhill, for whom scaffolding was built in 1716.

Most of the significant fittings which were not transferred from the old chapel date from the early years of the new. The windows not occupied by Langton’s figures contain stained glass of c.1717 by Joshua Price, and early seventeenth-century Flemish glass by Abraham van Linge, which he re-set. The panelling, the stalls, the magnificent screen and the wrought-iron communion rail all date from about the same time. The chandeliers were given in 1721 by Thomas d’Oyley and Penyston Powney. The marble reredos seems to be an early nineteenth-century remodelling, to house the painting which it still contains. The altar was made in 1986.

A note on the organ 

The first mention of an organ is in 1429-30 when £12 was paid ‘pro portantibus organa’. In 1416-62 a new organ, stool and desk were bought and an organist’s salary paid, and again in 1519. A small organ was built inside the sanctuary rails. This was enlarged and moved to the north side of the ante-chapel. J.W. Walker rebuilt the former organ in 1866 making it a large four manual instrument, and incorporating several ranks belonging to the organist, the Rev. L.G. Hayne. The organ extended from the gallery, covering the entire ante-chapel with the console on the screen. It was rebuilt and reduced in size by Rushworth and Dreaper in 1931.

The present organ was built by Frobenius and Sons in 1965. It has a mechanical action throughout and the case was designed by Fin Ditlevsen.