The Chapel

World-famous stained glass
The chapel was designed by the Manchester architect Thomas Worthington and opened its doors for worship in 1893. The windows, installed between 1894 and 1899, were all made by the firm of the great Victorian craftsman William Morris. Most were designed by the Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones, but Morris himself designed two of the lights ("Joseph" and "Mary Magdalene") in the chancel window above the communion table. In the opinion of Nikolaus Pevsner, "The whole set of windows in Manchester College Chapel is a pure joy" (The Buildings of England: Oxfordshire).

An illustrated lecture about the stained glass in the chapel, given by Dr Jon Whiteley, may be viewed by clicking the arrow in the centre of the image below.

North Wall Windows (to the right as you face the communion table)
The two small windows opposite the organ are appropriately musical in theme. One shows Miriam with cymbals, and the other shows David playing a small harp.

The six Arlosh Windows (given in memory of Godfrey Arlosh, who died in 1890) represent the biblical myth of the Six Days of Creation, depicted by red-robed angels, with the flame of creative energy about their heads, holding globes, in each of which the fresh creation of the day is represented. The model for the angels was reputedly May Morris, daughter of William Morris. As the creation unfolds, so does the wealth of detail and colour increase. Incorporated in the design is a verse from the "Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (who was at one time a Unitarian preacher):

He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.
He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.

A very Unitarian sentiment - as is the repeated motto from Diderot: Elargissez Dieu (roughly translated as "Set God free"  "Make God bigger"  "Open your mind to expand your concept of the Divine").

South Wall Windows (to the left as you face the communion table)
A series of symbolic figures, each with an appropriate text of scripture below.

  • Justice, bearing a sword in one hand and scales in the other.
  • Humility in robes of delicate grey and pink.
  • Generosity in the person of St Martin, dividing his cloak to share with a beggar.
  • Courage is portrayed as a soldier with shield and spear.
  • Charity appears in the form of the Good Samaritan tending the wounded traveller.
  • Mercy, a woman in blue, is clothing the destitute.
  • Prayer is a figure wearing a priestly vestment.
  • Inspiration, in a green robe, writes in a book with a white dove, symbolising the Holy Spirit, on her shoulder.
  • Faith joins hand with God (up in the clouds!).
  • Prophecy is represented by the character of Elijah.

The West Window (above the communion table)
Ten figures, representing Jesus, Mary his mother, Joseph his father, Mary Magdalene, the apostles Peter and Paul, and the four Evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).

The East Window (at the back of the Chapel)
Three central figures typify Truth, Liberty, Religion (the motto of the college), with an angel in each of the side-lights, and five scenes from the life of Jesus below.

A Pre-Raphaelite Jewel, written by chapel member Alan Middleton, gives a detailed account of the making and symbolism of the stained glass windows.

The organ pipes in the chancel are believed to have been decorated by John H. Dearle, successor to William Morris at Morris & Co. With its rich and sonorous tone, this is considered by many to be the finest English Romantic organ in Oxford.

The oak panelling and carvings are very fine. Visiting children enjoy looking for the pair of doves perched on the screen at the back of the chapel, and identifying the plants, birds, and animals of the Bible at the ends of the pews.

Wood Carvings (click images to enlarge)