Iffley Road, Oxford, Oxfordshire OX4
A large neo-Romanesque church by the architect-priest Fr Benedict Williamson. Built for the Jesuits, it is now a parish church and part of the adjoining friary of the Capuchin Franciscans. The church has an austere and serene interior. The whole complex makes a positive contribution to the conservation area and the distinctive tower is a local landmark.
The history of the church, the parish and the friary is briefly summarised in the list entry below. The following remarks provide some additional context.
The foundation stone was blessed on 17 September 1910. The cost (estimated at under £5,000) was provided by an anonymous donor.
In 1954, the porch on the liturgical north side was bricked up with flintwork and a plaque of Our Lady and the Angels installed. The porch was converted into the present chapel with the Spanish painting (according to a 1955 account by a painter called Lorente). The (hitherto disused) west door was reopened and an inner timber porch built. The same year, a new organ was installed and benches designed by a parishioner replaced the original chairs.
The church is fully described in the list entry (below). The following are just minor additions. The church is aligned on a roughly north-south axis but the following remarks follow conventional liturgical orientation, i.e. as if the altar was to the east.
Summary of Building: Roman Catholic church (originally Jesuit, now Capuchin), 1910-11 by Fr Benedict Williamson.
Reasons for Designation: The church of SS Edmund and Frideswide (Greyfriars church), built in 1910-11 to designs by Fr Benedict Williamson, is recommended for listing at Grade II for the following principal reason:* Architectural interest: an austerely dignified neo-Romanesque church by an accomplished architect, with a particularly serene and well-proportioned interior.
History: The Church of SS Edmund and Frideswide was built in 1910-11 by the Oxford Jesuit mission. Served from the Oratory, the main Jesuit base in the city, it succeeded St Ignatius’ chapel in St Clement’s (1793) as the principal site of Roman Catholic worship in east Oxford. The new church was designed by the architect-priest Fr Benedict Williamson (1868-1948), whose other work includes the Jesuit church of St Ignatius in Stamford Hill, north London, and a range of monastic buildings at Farnborough Abbey in Hampshire – both, like his Oxford church, in a neo-Romanesque style. The builders were Hunt & Sons of High Wycombe. In 1928 responsibility for the church was transferred to the Capuchins, a Franciscan order whose Oxford student hostel, Grosseteste House, occupied a pair of nearby houses on Iffley Road. In 1930-31 the present friary buildings, designed by the Oxford architect Gilbert Gardner under the supervision of Fr Cuthbert Hess, were built to the south of the church (these are not included in the listing). In 1954 an enclosed porch was formed under the north tower of the church, allowing the east porch to be blocked up and converted into a chapel dedicated to the Mother of the Good Shepherd – a Capuchin devotion of C18 Spanish origin. The chancel area was re-ordered in 1967 following the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council. In 1957 Greyfriars became a Permanent Private Hall (PPH) of the University, a status it surrendered in 2008; it now houses the Oxford Centre for Franciscan Studies.
Details: MATERIALS: knapped flint with red sandstone dressings and pantile roofs. PLAN: the buildings of Greyfriars form a single long range on the western side of Iffley Road. The church is at the northern end of the range and is aligned north-south. The main entrance is through the tower, with an organ gallery above. The nave and aisles are of four bays. There are two side porches, now blocked up to form a baptistery and a chapel. The chancel is flanked by side-chapels. EXTERIOR: the church is built in a plain neo-Norman style. Door and window openings are round-headed, with simple cushion capitals to the imposts. The five-stage tower has angle buttresses and a clasping stair turret. A triple-arched doorway to the north forms the main entrance, with a small quatrefoil window above; the middle stage has three blind arches, above which are two tiny slit windows. The topmost stage has twin belfry openings and rises into a saddleback roof pierced by a short copper spire. The former east porch has an arched doorway of three orders, now blocked up with flint work in which is set a circular relief of the Virgin and Child. INTERIOR: the interior of the church is simple and unadorned. The nave arcades comprise unmoulded semi-circular arches springing from cylindrical columns with plain cushion capitals; similar arches open from the aisles into the side chapels and porches, while the tower and chancel arches are enlarged versions of the same type. The wall above the chancel arch is pierced by three round-headed openings, echoing the three tall lights of the south window. Nave and chancel have open king-post roofs. The chancel floor, originally almost level with the nave, was raised up by four steps in the 1967 reordering. FITTINGS: the tower contains a panelled organ gallery with a balustrade above, the organ itself being a William Drake instrument built in 1981 for a private house and transferred to Greyfriars in 2001. In the aisles are statues of St Francis, St Clare and St Maria Goretti, as well as a set of Stations of the Cross in opus sectile [glass mosaic], installed in 1938 and reputedly designed by Fr Benedict Williamson himself. The aisle windows are of c1960 and depict St Francis, St Anthony and St Clare. Elaborate wrought-iron screens, installed c1930, mark the entrances to the side chapels and the former porches. The east porch was converted in 1954 into a chapel dedicated to the Mother of the Good Shepherd, and contains a painting (attributed to Murillo) of that subject set into a painted and gilded shrine. A C13 stone capital, excavated from the site of the original Greyfriars in the city centre, forms a credence table. The west porch is now a baptistery and contains a square stone font. The wrought-iron screen here contains symbols and inscriptions associated with baptism: in the tympanum is an image of the Holy Spirit descending amid a sunburst, with a Greek text from Mark 1:8 (‘he shall baptise you with the Holy Ghost’); the gates display the symbols Alpha and Omega and the Latin phrase PORTA COELI (‘the gate of Heaven’). The chapels to left and right of the chancel are dedicated to the Sacred Heart and Our Lady of Pity; both are marble-lined, with stone altars and painted statues. The chancel fittings – lectern, altar, candlesticks and tabernacle – were reordered and remodelled in 1967 . The three windows above the altar were installed in 1978 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Capuchin friary and depict St Edmund of Abingdon, St Agnellus of Pisa and St Frideswide of Oxford.
Selected Sources: Book Reference – An Oxford Parish: The Church of SS Edmund and Frideswide 1911-2011, 2011
National Grid Reference: SP5254505301
Architect: Rev. Benedict Williamson
Original Date: 1911
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Grade II