09 September 2023

Blackfriars Priory is
part of the 800-year
story of the Dominican
presence in Oxford

A glimpse of the chapel in Blackfriars, Oxford, through intricately carved stone screen at the liturgical west end (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

Earlier this week, I visited the Dominican house at Blackfriars Priory (or the Priory of the Holy Spirit) on Saint Giles in Oxford. The house includes both Blackfriars Hall, a constituent permanent private hall of the University of Oxford, and Blackfriars Studium, the Dominican centre of theological studies in England.

The prior of Blackfriars is the Very Revd Nicholas Crowe, and the regent of both the hall and the studium is the Very Revd Dr John O’Connor, who grew up in Co Galway. The name Blackfriars is commonly used for a house of Dominican friars, a reference to their black cappa, which forms part of their habit.

Blackfriars is located between the Ioannou Centre for Classical and Byzantine Studies and St Cross College, and close to Pusey House.

The site of Blackfriars near Pusey House was donated to the Dominicans in 1921 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The Dominicans first arrived in Oxford on 15 August 1221, at the instruction of a General Chapter meeting headed by Saint Dominic. As such, Blackfriars is heir to the oldest tradition of teaching in Oxford, a tradition that precedes both the aularian halls and the collegiate houses.

The Dominicans established a new priory in the Saint Ebbes district in 1236. The early Dominican theologians in Oxford included Robert Bacon and Richard Fishacre.

Like all the monastic houses in Oxford, Blackfriars was repeatedly in conflict with the university authorities. At the Reformation, Blackfriars and the other monastic houses in Oxford were suppressed in 1538.

The Dominicans did not return to Oxford for some 400 years, until Blackfriars was refounded in 1921 by Father Bede Jarrett (1881-1934), a friend of Graham Greene and the first Dominican since the Reformation to study at Oxford.

The entrance to Blackfriars on St Giles in Oxford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The site of the priory was acquired by a wealthy American widow, Charlotte Jefferson Tytus, and she donated it to the Dominicans.

The foundation stone was laid by Cardinal Bourne on 15 August 1921, the 700th anniversary of the founding of the first Oxford priory and the anniversary of the death of her husband, Edward Jefferson Tytus, who died on 15 August 1913. The building was completed in 1929. On 17 May the full community moved into the buildings on 17 May and the church was consecrated three days later by Archbishop Alban Goodier, former Archbishop Bombay.

The original priory building was designed by the architect Edward Doran Webb (1864-1931), who also designed the Birmingham Oratory. The building was completed in 1929.

The Dominican studium at Blackfriars had a close relationship with the university, leading to the establishment of Blackfriars as a permanent private hall in 1994.

Blackfriars Hall is a centre for the study of theology and philosophy. It admits men and women of any faith for Oxford undergraduate degrees in theology schools, PPE and for a wide range of postgraduate degrees. Blackfriars also offers candidates for the Catholic priesthood the Baccalaureate in Sacred Theology (STB) from the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Angelicum, in Rome.

Blackfriars Hall is a constituent permanent private hall of the University of Oxford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Blackfriars Hall is a permanent private hall. It is owned and governed by the English Province of the Order of Preachers or Dominicans and not by its fellows.

Blackfriars Hall is the home of a number of other institutes including the Las Casas Institute on ethics, governance and social justice. The Aquinas Institute was established in 2004.

Webb’s friary incorporates part of a 17th century building in the front range, with staircase tower and a short ancillary range to the rear designed ca 1951 by Rayson and Partners. It is built of Cotswold stone and laid out on a quadrangular plan, with a library, administration and teaching accommodation, friars’ accommodation, a dining hall and a large chapel in late Gothic style.

The inscription panel over the street entrance was carved by Eric Gill (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The entrance to Blackfriars on St Giles is through a gated round arch flanked by pilasters. There is a statue in a shell niche above and a plaque commemorating the return of the Dominicans to Oxford in 1921. The inscription panel over the street entrance was carved by Eric Gill and reads:

Hunc Conventum Alterum
Novum Eadem Die Qua Priscus
Fundatus Est AD MCCXXI
Fratres Praedicatores
Longum Post Exilium Reduces
Posuerunt XVIII Kal Sept MCMXXI

Edward Doran Webb’s large chapel is in a late Gothic style is listed Grade II as a fine example of 1920s conventual architecture (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Webb’s large chapel is in a late Gothic style is listed Grade II as a fine example of 1920s conventual architecture. The chapel is aligned west-east rather following the liturgical convention of east-west. It is large and flooded with light from the clear-glazed windows, including the seven-light liturgical East window (geographical west).

There is a timber arched ceiling, the High Altar stands on five steps, and the chancel and sanctuary have black and white tiling. The chancel stalls were inserted 1963 by Colin Fleetwood-Walker.

The three side chapels in the (liturgical) south aisle each have an altar to the east and a canopied piscina to the south. One of the side chapels has a sculpture of Saint Dominic carved in the manner of Eric Gill. The white marble Stations of the Cross are also in the style of Eric Gill.

One of the most decorative furnishings of the chapel is the screen of intricately carved stone screen at the liturgical west end (geographical east). An expressive modern statue of Our Lady with the Christ Child in the pose of a Pietà is in the entrance lobby.

The High Altar stands on five steps, and the chancel and sanctuary have black and white tiling (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Notable former students include Cardinal Joseph William Tobin, Archbishop of Newark; Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney; Archbishop Malcolm McMahon of Liverpool; and the theologians and writers James Alison, Herbert McCabe and Aidan Nichols.

Fellows and academics at Blackfriars have included Brian Davies, philosopher; Andrew Linzey, theologian and a leading figure in the Christian vegetarian movement; Timothy Radcliffe, Master of the Dominicans (1992-2001); Fergus Kerr; and the philosopher Roger Scruton.

Today Blackfriars is thriving, yet it is a haven of peace and spirituality and a centre of learning and training of new members of the priesthood.

The white marble Stations of the Cross may be the work of Eric Gill (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The Sunday services in the Priory Church, at which members of the public are welcome, are: 8 am, Conventual Mass; 9 am Lauds; 9:30, Family Mass; 1.05 pm, Office of Readings and Midday Prayer; 5:30 pm Vespers; 6 pm Mass.

Monday to Friday: 7:05 am, Lauds; 7:30, Conventual Mass; 1:05 pm, Office of Readings and Midday Prayer; 6 pm, Mass; 6:45 pm, Vespers. Saturday: 8:05 am, Lauds; 8:30 am, Conventual Mass; 6 pm Vigil Mass of Sunday; 6:45 pm, First Vespers of Sunday.

The Roman Catholic parish church is the Oratory Church of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga on Woodstock Road, 400 metres north of leaving Blackfriars. The University Catholic Chaplaincy is on Rose Place, off Saint Aldate’s, opposite the Christ Church memorial gardens.

The modern statue of Our Lady with the Christ Child in the narthex of the church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (104) 9 September 2023

Winslow Tabernacle, the former Baptist Chapel off High Street in Winslow (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and tomorrow is the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XIV, 10 September 2023). The calendar of the Church of England today (9 September 2023) remembers the life and witness of Charles Fuge Lowder, priest (1880).

Before today begins, I am taking some time this morning for prayer and reflection.

This week, I have been reflecting each morning in these ways:

1, Looking at a church on the route of the annual Ride + Stride, organised by Buckinghamshire Historic Churches Trust and taking place today (9 September 2023);

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Keach’s Meeting House is tucked away in Bell Walk, Winslow (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The annual Ride + Stride organised by Buckinghamshire Historic Churches Trust takes place today, 9 September 2023. Participants may be cyclists, walkers, horse-riders or drivers of mobility scooters. They can be of any age, but under-13s must be accompanied by an adult. All denominations are welcome.

Participants may visit as many churches as they like, planning their own route, and are asked to seek sponsorship from friends, relations and colleagues: so much per church visited or a lump sum. https://ridestride.org/

Ride + Stride offers opportunities find out what lies behind the churchyard gates of Buckinghamshire’s many churches and chapels.

Ride + Stride is open to walkers as well as horse-riders and cyclists. It always takes place on the second Saturday of September, between 10 am and 6 pm, and aims to raise money for the repair and restoration of churches and chapels of any Christian denomination in Buckinghamshire.

Half the money raised goes to the church or chapel of the participant’s choice, and the other half is added to a general fund administered by the Buckinghamshire Historic Churches Trust.

Churches are encouraged to make applications to the trust for grants to help with church repairs and restoration. Last year’s Ride + Stride event raised more than £26,610. Last year, the trust awarded grants totalling £28,000 to 11 churches that applied for funding to assist with both major and minor works.

My photographs this week have been from some of the churches taking part in this year’s Ride + Stride today. Two of the participating churches are Keach’s Meeting House and the Baptist Tabernacle in Winslow, Buckinghamshire. My photographs this morning are of these two buildings, with some additional photographs of Saint Laurence’s Church, the Church of England parish church in Winslow.

The Revd JA Spurgeon opened the new Baptist chapel in Winslow in 1864 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 6: 1-5 (NRSVA):

6 One sabbath while Jesus was going through the cornfields, his disciples plucked some heads of grain, rubbed them in their hands, and ate them. 2 But some of the Pharisees said, ‘Why are you doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?’ 3 Jesus answered, ‘Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and gave some to his companions?’ 5 Then he said to them, ‘The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.’

Keach’s Meeting House is hidden behind fences and rich foliage in a back garden in Winslow (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), has been ‘Harvest.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday. To find out more, visit www.uspg.org.uk

The USPG Prayer Diary today (9 September 2023) invites us to pray in these words:

May God the Son, who fed the five thousand and turned water into wine, feed us with his life and transform us in his love.

Saint Laurence’s Church dates from Saxon times and dominates the west side of the High Street in Winslow, Buckinghamshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Collect:

Almighty God,
who called your Church to bear witness
that you were in Christ reconciling the world to yourself:
help us to proclaim the good news of your love,
that all who hear it may be drawn to you;
through him who was lifted up on the cross,
and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

God our creator,
you feed your children with the true manna,
the living bread from heaven:
let this holy food sustain us through our earthly pilgrimage
until we come to that place
where hunger and thirst are no more;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Inside Saint Laurence’s Church, Winslow, facing the east end (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday’s Reflection

Continued Tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The East Window in Saint Laurence’s Church, Winslow, is by Charles Eamer Kempe (1897); the reredos was painted by Cherie Rush in 2000 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)