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Museum of Oxford Digital Exhibitions

The Oxford Movement

Out of religious, political, and institutional crisis Oxford gave birth to a movement that would transform the Church of England and help change Christian life throughout the world. The Oxford Movement began in the 1820s and gained recognition in the 1830s. Initially a response to the way in which Church and State were increasingly separating and more and more non-Anglicans being welcomed in Parliament and other institutions, the Oxford Movement came to offer a searing critique of contemporary religion, society, and the University. Its leaders, also known as the Tractarians, saw the State as ungodly and the University as unchristian, and thought that the Church had failed to redeem either.

The resulting debate was intellectually powerful as well a bitter and often vicious. The Tractarians’ opponents accused them of seeking to return the Church to a ‘popish’ past.  The conversion to Catholicism of John Henry Newman (1801-1890), vicar of the University Church and an early leader, lent credence to such charges, and others would follow Newman’s example. But the Oxford Movement was more than just its leadership. It stimulated a new interest in the power of symbols, a renewed emphasis on the sacraments, the revival of old liturgy, and the enthusiastic embrace of Gothic architecture. The ideas developed in Oxford would reshape parish churches and parish life and leave numerous memorials in Oxford itself.