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University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Oxford

4.7
#3 of 12 in Historic Sites in Oxford
Architectural Building Religious Site
The University Church of St Mary the Virgin is an Oxford church situated on the north side of the High Street. It is the centre from which the University of Oxford grew and its parish consists almost exclusively of university and college buildings.St Mary's possesses an eccentric baroque porch, designed by Nicholas Stone, facing High Street, and a spire which is claimed by some church historians to be one of the most beautiful in England. Radcliffe Square lies to the north and to the east is Catte Street. The 13th century tower is open to the public for a fee and provides good views across the heart of the historic university city, especially Radcliffe Square, the Radcliffe Camera, Brasenose College and All Souls College.HistoryA church was established on this site, at the centre of the old walled city, in Anglo-Saxon times; records of 1086 note the church as previously belonging to an estate held by Aubrey de Coucy, likely Iffley, and the parish including part of Littlemore.In the early days of Oxford University, the church was adopted as the first building of the university, congregation met there from at least 1252, and by the early 13th century it was the seat of university government and was used for lectures and the award of degrees. Around 1320 a two storey building was added to the north side of the chancel — the ground floor (now the Vaults cafe) became the "convocation" house used by university parliament, and the upper storey housed books bequeathed by Thomas Cobham, Bishop of Worcester, which formed the first university library.
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Where to stay in Oxford

An inexpensive alternative to Oxford's pricey hotels, historical college room lodgings provide visitors with an opportunity to experience the city's old-world academic atmosphere without having to pass exams. Offering more than just comfortable beds and warm meals, centrally located college B&Bs provide visitors with a glimpse into the ancient world of Oxford academia. These rooms are mainly available during school vacations, when students clear out of their dormitories. At other times of year, explore the varied world of Oxford's elegant hotels and private guesthouses.
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4.6
  • This lovely church is next to Radcliffe Camera. We paid for the climb to the top of the tower and had a beautiful view all over Oxford. It has a small café which we did not use. Well worth the small f...  more »
  • While wandering through the University grounds just past the Bodleian library we came upon the cafe at St. Mary the Virgin. While sitting in the sun we had a pot of tea, scones with clotted cream and ...  more »
  • This beautiful small church located next to Radcliffe Camera has great historic significance in that the bishop was dragged from it and burned at the stake under the orders of Queen Mary. Inside the c...  more »
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  • Magnificent and impressive church with tours of the tower where you can have the best views of the city, a little work out to get to the top but is amazing... it can get crowded and the traffic up and down might be heavy at times...beautiful church nave...good options for food and coffee and tea
  • Well worth the visit. Fantastic architecture and an amazing atmosphere with wonderful views from the tower supporting the steeple. The Memorial to all of the Martyrs of the Reformation is here. Arch Bishop Thomas Cranmer was tried here before being removed to be burned at the stake for heresy just round the corner in Broad Street. Damage to one of the pillars is said to have been caused by his chains. They also have a very high standard coffee shop too.
  • It made me weep the first time I walked in. Sacred and approachable . Remember the martyrs and the back yard.
  • One is limited to what one can view on the inside, though serene and inspiring nonetheless. It costs to climb the stairs up to the church tower, but the view of Oxford is stunning.
  • Watch out for the narky old man patrolling the church. He was on a mega power trip and you wonder how he hasn't quit as he was clearly one berating away from caning some poor kid. Old nark aside, the tower offers beautiful views of Oxford rooftops which do look beautiful in the sunlight.