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Uncomfortable Scavenger Hunt

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Osney: Location 2

St Frideswide Church, OX2 0BL

Welcome to a site commemorating the patron saint of Oxford.

A saint shared by 

the town and the gown

A 19th century building, St Frideswide's Church has an the empty pedestal on its outer wall, which recalls Reformation iconoclasm.

St Frideswide's Church is one of many places named after a Saxon princess and semi-legendary patron saint of the city & the University of Oxford.

 

Frideswide (or Frithuswith c. 650 – 727) was the daughter of the King of Mercia, when England was divided between smaller kingdoms. She wished to devote her life to prayer, but was pursued by another kinglet, Algar, and sought refuge in woodlands around Oxford. Legend says that her assailant was blinded by God, but Frideswide cured his blindness with holy water from a nearby well. She was thereafter rewarded for her piety with the foundation of the Priory of St. Frideswide - on the current site of Christ Church College Cathedral. 

 

St Frideswide's original nunnery was destroyed in 1002 during the events of the St. Brice's Day massacre - a planned execution of all Danes living in England in 1002. Her own shrine was then vandalised during the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII and the priory became Christ Church Cathedral.

St Frideswide's Church opened in April 1872 in Osney, with Christ Church college as a patron of the parish. Founded in 1851, New Osney or Osney Town had developed from a meadowland to a populous suburb in just a few years. In fact, within two years it had 300 inhabitants and the 1861 census recorded a population of 795 people in 141 houses.

The bordering streets of this new Osney Town were named the after cardinal directions

Osney Parish was created to cope with the influx of a new working class population, mostly employed in the rail-works industry. The remoteness of Osney Town from the city centre was further emphasized by the development of train lines with the London, North Western and Great Western railway companies.

A small school-chapel building opened in 1854, but it was not adequate to host the island’s population. This prompted the construction of a new larger church for the growing suburb: St Frideswide's Church, a direct reference to the lost Oxford priory.

 

The decision to dedicate the church to the medieval saint owed much to the fact that Christ Church college was the patron of Osney Parish. This dedication to St. Frideswide is a rare one, with only four other similar religious buildings in England (the most famous one, in Poplar London, disappeared in a bombing).

 

Although not many churches are dedicated to Frideswide, it remains a common and popular placename in Oxford.

From its foundation, it faced many financial difficulties, because additional money was not available in an area of low income. The church architect Samuel Sanders Teulon wanted to build an example of Victorian Gothic architecture, yet had to adapt this vision to the lack of funds. The church tower, which he had envisioned 54ft. tall topped by a 40ft. spire, could not be funded, and the absence of a spire to this day is directly related to these early economic shortfalls.

 

The first permanent roof was only installed in 1985, over a century after the church had been consecrated. 

St Frideswide's churchyard commemorates the local population of Osney Parish.

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With friends or family? Discuss the following:

Different events and figures in Oxford's history have been in turn adopted by the inhabitants of the city and the university.

  • How was the figure of Frideswide transformed over the centuries? 

  • Can you think of any other famous figures that have become legendary in Oxford?

  • How does wealth shape the relationship between the University and the city today?

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Interested in seeing more?

Check out "Alice's Door" inside the Church!

In the north-east end of the nave, look out for the ‘Alice Door’, carved in the 1880s by Alice Liddell, daughter of Dr. Henry Liddell, a former Dean of Christ Church college - and Lewis Caroll’s inspiration for the main protagonist of Alice’s adventures in Wonderland. The door was originally at London’s Poplar St Frideswide’s Church (f. 1890 by the Christ Church mission), but the church suffered bomb damage during the Second World War and was eventually demolished. The door was returned to Christ Church college, and placed at Osney’s St Frideswide’s Church. 
 

Looking at the panel, you can see St Frideswide travelling downstream by boat from Binsey (further up the Thames river, where she would have hidden from her royal suitor) to Oxford. ​

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