Building » Oxford (Cowley) – Our Lady Help of Christians

Oxford (Cowley) – Our Lady Help of Christians

Hollow Way, Cowley, Oxford, Oxfordshire OX4

A large post-war church designed by the Irish architect Patrick Sheahan. The church retains most of its original furnishings, including the large reredos with a Crucifixion mosaic.

A Mass centre served by the Capuchin friars was established at Cowley in 1907. In 1920, the parish was handed over to the Salesians who still own the parish buildings and who continue to serve the parish. The chapel of the Salesian College in Cowley was used as the parish church.

The foundation stone for the present church was laid on 9 September 1961 by the Bishop of Soli. The finished church was opened in 1962. It was consecrated on 24 May 1967. The architect was Chevalier Patrick J. Sheahan of Limerick, in collaboration with the Oxford architects Ballard & Beese. The estimated overall cost was £40,000.

In the early 1990s, the oak pulpit was removed and replaced by a lectern. In 2010, a hall was built between the house and the church (Langan Associates in association with David Sayer & Associates). This was part-funded by the sale of the old hall further up the road. The new buildings also provide a sacristy and a day chapel.


The church faces northwest. The following description follows conventional liturgical orientation, i.e. as if the altar was to the east.

The church is built on a longitudinal plan, with a narrower sanctuary, a southwest tower and sacristies to the southeast. It is a portal framed structure faced with rustic bricks laid in stretcher bond with stone dressings and a tiled roof. The west elevation has a low and shallow porch with two windows flanking the doors. Above are two six-light windows flanking a statue of the Virgin and Child in front of a blue mosaic niche. The tower has large louvred openings to the slightly narrower belfry stage and is capped with a pitched roof. The nave bays have five-light clerestory windows, while the narrower chancel has eight-light side windows. The north elevation has two small projecting spaces under pitched roofs, containing a confessional and a side porch.

The interior consists of a seven-bay nave and a short chancel. The side walls are panelled in timber. Originally, the sanctuary was also panelled in timber, replaced by marble at a later stage. Marble altar rails enclose the sanctuary, as well as the two side chapels. The forward altar, the tabernacle stand and the lectern are all of marble. The centrepiece of the sanctuary is a large mosaic reredos under a baldacchino. The Crucifixion mosaic was made in 1961 by the Irish Mosaic Company of Roscommon (their first English commission). The side chapels are also lined in marble and are dedicated to St Joseph and the Sacred Heart. The marble font has been placed in the St Joseph’s chapel.

In the new day chapel there are two Victorian stained glass panels depicting St Francis de Sales and St John Bosco, which came from the nearby Salesian House (now closed).

Heritage Details

Architect: Chevalier Patrick J. Sheahan

Original Date: 1962

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed