Hand held three shot HDR processed in Photomatix.
Nikon D5000 & Sigma 10mm-20mm @13mm.
A wooden church, dedicated to St. Mary Magdalen, stood on this site a thousand years ago, although it was then outside the northern wall of the city. Viking raiders burnt much of Oxford in 1010 and 1013, and the wooden church appears to have gone up in flames. In 1074, Robert d’Oilli, the Norman Constable of Oxford, built a single aisle chapel to replace the Saxon foundation. He attached St. Mary Magdalen to his collegiate chapel of St. George in the castle, even though the pre-conquest patrons had been the conventual church of St. Frideswide. The collegiate chapel was subsequently absorbed by Oseney Abbey (founded as a priory in 1129) and until the Reformation the Augustinian canons of Oseney provided the priests who served St. Mary Magdalen as vicars.
St. Hugh, Bishop of Lincoln, rebuilt the church in 1194, during the reign of Richard I, who (like King John) was born in the neighbouring Beaumont Palace (at the Worcester College end of Beaumont Street). Richard ‘the Lion Heart’ retained an interest in the church, and the parishioners were allowed a common seal that bore a crescent beneath a star, a device used by the King in the Third Crusade. Today’s east chancel wall and the south aisle, together with the altar dedicated to St. Thomas Becket, incorporated some of St. Hugh’s work. A century later the scholars of newly founded Balliol College had an oratory dedicated to St. Catherine in the present north aisle; and in 1320 the Carmelites founded a chapel in the south aisle, preserved as a unified piece to form the present Lady Chapel.
The highly decorated perpendicular font (circa 1350) is still used for baptisms. The wooden chest at the back of the south aisle is also 14th century, repaired on the orders of Charles I in 1643 after damage by Parliamentarian prisoners-of-war temporarily held captive after the battle of Cirencester. The holy water stoup by the south door and the south porch are early 16th century. Work on the tower began in 1513 and continued during the upheavals of the Reformation; some of the stones of Rewley Abbey, Oxford’s Cistercian monastery, strengthened the base of the tower. The middle window of the Lady Chapel is believed to be Elizabethan.
After the Reformation, the patronage of the church passed to St. Frideswide’s successor, Christ Church. Chantry certificates for 1549 suggest that St. Mary Magdalen’s was the most densely populated parish in Oxford. Close links continued with the three colleges within the parish: St. John’s, Balliol and Trinity. An alabaster memorial to the Trinity College bibliophile, William Pickering, stands inside the north door. But the church served all social classes: the burial register 1635 (the year Pickering died) includes 6 “Gentlemen”, 3 college servants, 12 skilled craftsmen, 6 labourers, a translator and a “poor man”. During the Civil War and the Cromwellian aberration, the church remained staunchly royalist, the secret base for the “prelatical party”. St. Mary Magdalen openly used the Book of Common Prayer in 1660 while Charles II was still in exile. A portrait of the martyr King is above St. Thomas’s altar. Briefly, from 1748 to 1763, St. Mary Magdalen’s was a power house generating the new evangelical enthusiasm under a vicar, Joseph Lane, who was praised by Charles Wesley for displaying the ‘very spirit of Methodism’. By the end of the century, however, it had become a conventional Anglican parish church, though still with marked social divisions separating the northern and eastern fringes from the congested semi-slums around Gloucester Green.
In 1841-42, the young, and as yet unknown, Gilbert Scott rebuilt the chancel and the north aisle to complement his work on the Martyrs’ Memorial, thus giving the church Oxford’s earliest Victorian Gothic interior. From 1886 onwards, there were links with the University Society of Change ringers, which continue to the present day. The reredos behind the High Altar was completed in 1894. More artistically satisfying was the new West Window, designed and painted by Elizabeth Wigram in 1898 to depict the city’s mediaeval past in gentler colours than the early Victorian glass of the east end of the church. Social changes in the First World War altered the character of the parish, which ceased to be predominantly residential. By 1924, St. Mary Magdalen had become a city centre church, belatedly accepting Tractarian principles and ritual. At mid-century, during the incumbency of the charismatic Canon Colin Stephenson (1948-59) St. Mary Magdalen’s was fashionable and exuberantly Anglo-Catholic, ‘the highest church in Oxford’; and in 1975 Sir John Betjeman could commend ‘its rich Victorian glass and splendid ceremonial’. Adornments surviving from these years include the Stations of the Cross from Oberammergau and a wooden statue of Mary Magdalen carved by Franciscan sisters at Freeland (1971). The church has remained in the Catholic Anglican tradition, becoming more inclusive in outlook in recent decades. During the incumbency of Canon Hugh Wybrew (1989-2004) links forged with the Orthodox in 1944 were much strengthened and the Ikon of the Holy Trinity has been in the church since 1992. A project to develop the west end of the church, recently completed, has provided a unique modern organ (Organ) designed by Matthew Copley, a new sacristy, a small office, a musicians’ gallery and a social area. A full peal of ten bells (Bells & Bellringers) was completed in 2003, and since 1997 a semi-professional adult choir (Choir) has sung at Solemn Mass.