It’s a must see medieval attraction when visiting Oxford.
You will be amazed with the Divinity School’s intricate ceiling patterns and gorgeous tall windows. On your visit make sure to take a sit on a bench and imagine oral exams taking places within those magnificent walls.
The Divinity School is a medieval building and room in the Perpendicular style characterised by its rich ornamentation and tracery. The building, which belongs to the University of Oxford, is attached to the Bodleian Library (the main research library of the University of Oxford,), and is opposite the Sheldonian Theatre where students matriculate and graduate. At the far end from the Bodleian Library entrance, a door leads to Convocation House (the lower floor of the Bodleian Library and Divinity School).
Designed between 1423 and 1488 specifically for lectures, oral exams and discussions on theology, was almost ‘certainly the building that popularised Tudor arches’.
You may recognize the Divinity School’s classic gothic vaulted ceiling from Harry Potter movie which served as Hogwarts Infirmary. The ceiling consists of very elaborate four hundred and fifty five sculptural roof-bosses with four hanging pendants in each bay, designed by William Orchard in the 1480s. Its sandy coloured walls are made from stone from quarries in Taynton and from Headington. The hall-like room is well lighted due to the vertical windows with their opaque glass panes.
The Divinity School is full of symbols and representations of ideas and of people and its architecture is therefore an important indicator of the changing attitudes and beliefs of society throughout its life.
The Divinity School is Oxford the oldest surviving purpose-built building for university use.
The School was not solely used as a theology lecture hall, there were many other usages of it. Many important trials and royal visits took place within its walls; what’s more the School was used by the House of Commons when they were driven from London by the plague in 1625.
Today the School is used before graduation ceremonies and for other important university events. Its one-of-a-kind interior is also used as a wedding venue.
The vault is the most striking feature of the whole of the Divinity School and it’s ‘probably the largest groined vault of one span of any secular building in this country’.
The School has been modified numerous times and throughout its life and it has been heavily restored.
The north wall hosts an elaborate seventeenth-century Gothic doorway, added by Christopher Wren in 1669, gives access to the Sheldonian Theatre where students matriculate and graduate.
Greek inscription on an open book, reading ‘They found Him sitting in the midst of Doctors.’
The vault bears shields of arms, initials, religious subjects, animal and foliage representations as well as inscriptions appearing in English, French and Latin.
Funders of this magnificent construction were given immortality by having their initials built into the ceiling design.
Image credits: Divinity School’s interior by David Iliff, source: Wikimedia. Make sure to visit his amazing Flickr gallery.
The Divinity School is full of symbols and representations of ideas and of people and its architecture. It reveals the way academia and religion played an intersecting role in fifteenth century Oxford as well as being an important indicator of the changing attitudes and beliefs of society throughout its life.
Divinity School Tours:
Divinity School – £1 for 10 minutes. Tickets for tours are available in advance or on the day from the Great Gate ticket office (subject to availability). Find out more here.
Check out Winter Tours offer for individual visits between November and February when you book your tickets in advance online.
Planning to take some photos? Make sure to visit this stunning room during a sunny day as its features are very hard to photograph, especially if the natural light is not there.