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Museum of Oxford Digital Exhibitions

Oxford saints

Photo credit: By Permission of St Aloysius

The first public site for Catholic worship in Oxford was the chapel of St Ignatius in St Clement’s Street which opened in 1793. By the mid-19th century, however, a larger church was needed, and in 1875, St Aloysius on Woodstock Road was completed to be run originally by the Jesuits. Designed in French Gothic style by the architect Joseph Hansom (1803-1882), the interior of St Ignatius’ Chapel is highly decorative. The high altar was installed in 1876, and the reredos in 1878, with its statues put in place over the next few years.

The reredos which curves around the east end of the sanctuary has 52 niches holding statues of saints in two rows. These include saints from the early Christian Church right through to those of Europe’s Catholic Reformation, such as St Charles Borromeo (1538-1584) and St Teresa d’Avila (1515-1582). Above the reredos are 20 more figures, with only their heads showing. Among them are Catholics who were beheaded under Henry VIII, Margaret Pole (1473-1541), John Fisher (1469-1535), and Thomas More (1478-1535), and those who lost their lives under Elizabeth I, John Story (1504-1571), Edmund Campion (1540-1581), and Alexander Briant (1556-1581). Between the reredos and the heads, angels can be seen bearing a scroll with the words of the Sanctus: the call ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’ that is prayed in the celebration of the Mass.