Visiting Oxford’s Christ Church Cathedral

Cathedral Several years ago I took my daughter-in-law to visit a cathedral, St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh.

She’d not traveled a great deal and had grown up in non-denominational church settings. When we entered the tall church, she began to cry. She’d never seen such a beautiful place to worship God before.

I remembered her appreciation during a recent visit to Oxford University’s Christ Church Cathedral. I stepped into the ancient church as part of my tour of Christ Church College.  A kind woman greeted me at the door and reminded me I was entering a church, not a tourist attraction.

I thanked her. “It’s wonderful to think Christians have been worshipping God on this site for nearly 1500 years.”

She smiled and suggested I stay for the service.

The patron saint of Oxford, St. Frideswide founded the first church on that site circa 680–nearly a thousand years before later Oxford graduates arrived in Virginia! The building I visited was constructed circa 1200 as a monastery church.

cathedral aisleWhat must those earlier builders and worshippers have been like? How did they come to build some a beautiful building? And how had it survived the ages?

I looked down the long row of choir stalls to the high altar, and wondered where the “common” people sat. It seems such a long stretch, so far from where the communion service would take place. Music is always central to worship and the choir stalls would house young boys in long robes, singing to the glory of God. cathedral angel

The carved stalls themselves included details that must have taken a long time to make, and yet were given to the glory of God. I paused to admire the angels, but how many others have done the same in the centuries since the cathedral was built?

Cathedrals usually have stained glass windows. Christ Church had  several. The Jonah Window created in 1630 by Abraham van Linge, stood just inside the nave. The colors looked modern to me.

Cathedral Jonah WindowA more recent window, the St. Frideswide Window, was made by Edward Burne-Jones in 1858. Full of bright colors, it tells the story of the eighth century local saint and included touches of the whimsical: dogs. On leashes no less!cathedral window

cathedral dogs


The vault above the chancel (where the choir stalls are located) was designed circa 1500 by William Orchard. It’s made of stone carved into a star-shaped pattern to create an image of heaven. Cathedral ceiling



Gravestones dot the floor, monuments to former students line the walls. A sarcophagus gave me pause, as they so often do. A large box carved in stone, a stone woman lay across the top, her hands neatly folded. While she was complete, and dead since 1354, the figures of her child which lined the side of her sarcophagus have been beheaded.

Oliver Cromwell’s men at work three hundred years later.cathedral sarcophagus

I sat for a time in the cathedral, listening to the music, thinking about this structure as a place of worship. Years ago, I’d asked a docent in another Christchurch Cathedral, what the life of the church was like.

“It’s not lived here in the cathedral,” she explained. “Real Christian community takes place outside of this large building.”

Several of the cathedrals I visited on this trip had large posters explaining what Christianity is, who Jesus is, what baptism means. I was impressed that they didn’t leave the building alone to explain God to tourists.

A cathedral is tall, magnificent and reflective of people’s devotion to God–in this case for more than a millennium. The expense and beauty put into it were designed to make people think of how grand God is, how awesome he is. In a community of people struggling to life, a magnificent structure such as these gave them a place to feel proud. The church life was the center of their existence.

Colleges in Oxford were originally set up to study religion. The cathedral was the center.

The reality of a church body is a body–a warm, living being. Other Christians are who point you to God. The building is a mere reflection of how people honor and revere him. I enjoy walking through cathedrals and feeling a sense of historical unity with all those who have gone before. The organs sound beautiful. The art work is glorious. I’ve heard excellent sermons preached.

But, I have to say, when it’s time to worship my Creator, I’d rather do it in my smaller, plainer church back home.

Stained glass windows and all.

Where would you rather worship God? In a large empty beautiful cathedral, or in a smaller, plain church filled with enthusiastic believers? Click to Tweet

Worshipping God for 1000 years in the same spot Click to Tweet

Do dog stained glass windows belong in a cathedral? Click to Tweet

I think so. How about you?  🙂


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  1. Thanks for the tour! This is probably a place I’ll never see, for various reasons. But I sure understand your daughter’s response. Though it’s not a cathedral, the first time I walked into our church, I cried.

  2. The cathedral reminded me of the reverence we should have that sometimes we forget with our causal churches. It was a visual reminder of God’s majesty.


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