19 October 2022

Visiting Saint Luke’s Chapel
on Saint Luke’s Day and
the Radcliffe Observatory

Saint Luke’s Chapel, part of the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, was once the church attached to the Radcliffe Hospital (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

I was in Oxford yesterday for a lunch with a long-standing friend from Pakistan who is in England working on her PhD at the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies.

It was seven months since I had my stroke (18 March 2022) and had ended up first in Milton Keynes University Hospital and then in John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford. Tuesday was Saint Luke’s Day (18 October 2022), so it seemed appropriate after lunch that I should visit the Saint Luke’s Chapel, which is part of the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter and was once the church attached to the Radcliffe Hospital.

The chapel is now deconsecrated, but it has been beautifully restored to showcase its pre-Raphaelite stained glass windows and vaulted ceiling.

Saint Luke’s Chapel was designed by Sir Arthur William Blomfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Saint Luke’s was built in the Early English Gothic style and is named after Saint Luke, the gospel writer and the patron saint of physicians.

The large, rectangular interior of the chapel is now a flexible event space with a capacity of up to 80 people in theatre style layout. It is also a venue space for private dining, live theatre and recordings. The range of bookings including meetings, dinners, drinks receptions and talks. However, it is only available to hire to people who have associations with the University of Oxford.

Saint Luke’s Chapel is also part of the Oxford University Event Venues portfolio that includes the Sheldonian Theatre, Examination Schools, and Osler House.

The carving over the south porch in Saint Luke’s Chapel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The chapel was designed by the architect Sir Arthur William Blomfield (1829-1899), a son of Charles James Blomfield, Bishop of London, and was consecrated on 7 June 1865.

Saint Luke’s is built of coursed rubble, with stone tracery and a red tile steeply pitched roof with a bell turret. It was connected to the Radcliffe Infirmary by a pitched-roof, four-bay corridor, and formed one side of the courtyard in front of the Infirmary.

It was designed on a rectangular plan of five bays and chancel. The transept porch on the south wall is under bellcote. It was connected to main hospital block by a four-bay corridor.

Inside the chapel, the bays are marked by wood trusses with cusped underside. Each bay has a window with pair of narrow cusped lancets surmounted by pointed trefoils and quatrefoils with carved hood stops. The East Window has three stepped lancets and is framed by tall colonnettes with small capitals supporting thin roll mouldings and with foliate roundels in the spandrels.

The glass originally depicted nine miracles of healing and the Resurrection, and may have been designed by Henry Holiday (1839-1927).

The Radcliffe Observatory is now the centrepiece of Green Templeton College (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The chapel is now a Grade II listed building, standing in the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter (ROQ), a major development project by the University of Oxford in the estate of the old Radcliffe Infirmary hospital site.

The site covers 10 acres (3.7 hectares) is in central north Oxford, and is bounded by Observatory Street and Green Templeton College to the north, Woodstock Road to the east, Somerville College to the south, and Walton Street to the west.

The project and the area are named after the Radcliffe Observatory, now the centrepiece of Green Templeton College, which is intended to form the visual centrepiece of the project.

Radcliffe Observatory was founded and named after John Radcliffe by the Radcliffe Trustees. It was built on the suggestion of the astronomer Thomas Hornsby, who was the Savilian Professor of Astronomy, following his observation of the notable transit of Venus across the sun’s disc in 1769 from a room in the nearby Radcliffe Infirmary.

The observatory building was initially designed by Henry Keene in 1772, and was completed in 1794 by James Wyatt. Its prominent octagonal tower based on the Tower of the Winds in Athens. The tower is topped with a statue by John Bacon of Atlas holding up the World.

The Savilian Professor of Astronomy was responsible for the observatory until 1839. The appointment that year of George Henry Sacheverell Johnson, an astronomer with no observational experience, caused the creation of the new role of Radcliffe Observer.

Radcliffe Observatory was the astronomical observatory of the University of Oxford from 1773 until 1934, when the Radcliffe Trustees sold it. Because of viewing conditions, weather, urban development and light pollution at Oxford, the observatory moved to South Africa.

Today, the observatory is the centrepiece of Green Templeton College. The original instruments are now in the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford, except for the Radcliffe 18/24-inch Twin Refractor telescope, which was transferred to the University of London Observatory.

Green Templeton College is the university’s second newest graduate college, after Reuben College, and was founded by the merger of Green College and Templeton College in 2008. The college specialises in subjects relating to human welfare and social, economic and environmental well-being, including medical and health sciences, management and business, and most social sciences.

Green Templeton College is one of the newest graduate colleges in the University of Oxford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

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