Visiting the Chapel
The Chapel is a good place to pray, to be quiet, still and take some minutes away from the freneticism of contemporary life in College and beyond. Its beauty is not a mistake: our eyes are meant to wander round the windows and statues - everything has its purpose and its carefully chosen place, it tells the ancient story of Christianity, as well as the story of its founders and benefactors.
About the Chapel
The Chapel was built in 1629-1631. Its chief glories were the windows and the screen.
Here is the Chapel, looking towards the east window (below left); and looking westwards towards the screen and entrance (below right). As you san see, the north and south windows are also painted. The Chapel was built in 1629-1631. Its chief glories were the windows and the screen; this is built of cedar wood (to recall the Temple in Jerusalem) and for over a hundred years filled the Chapel with the scent of cedar. The front pews with their statues and the carved ceiling were added in the 1680s. Since then the Chapel has remained almost unchanged.
Photos throughout this section: Thomas Photos, Oxford.
The East Window
Here are the twelve scenes, 'typologically' arranged: on the top, six scenes from the life of Jesus; underneath them, six corresponding scenes from the Old Testament. All the links except for the last are explicitly drawn in the scripture. So we have the First Adam beneath the Second, the Baptism of Israel in the Red Sea beneath the Baptism of Christ, and so on. The windows are the masterpiece of Abraham van Linge, 1629-31. They are not stained glass, but enamelled: the enamel was painted on then fired; the heat and length of firing determined the final colour. It is a tricky, sophisticated technique of which van Linge was the supreme master.
You can take a closer look at some of the details:
1) The Last Supper with the Virgin Mary unexpectedly present as guest of honour beside Jesus;
2) frenetic activity in Eden, with Adam and Eve at Creation and Fall watched by a cast of delightful creatures- the light of creation far outshines the sun, moon and stars (upper left), and is enlivening an Adam who looks uncannily like Charles I,
3) and an implausibly toothsome whale ejecting Jonah (and glad to be rid of him it seems).
The North and South Windows
On each wall are twelve figures: on the North, twelve prophets; and on the South, the apostles. Such 'typology' between Old Testament and New was familiar in the 17th century. The prophets were traditionally lined along the North, as the light of the gospel had not risen upon them, so they stand in shadow. The apostles stand on the South, where the sun's light can shine through then on the people below. These windows too are by Abraham von Linge, 1629-31.
Here are some details:
The first of the South windows shows three apostles: St Peter has his keys; St Andrew carries the saltire cross on which has was killed; and St James is dressed as a pilgrim, with staff and gourd in his hand, and broad-brimmed hat - with its distinctive shell - hanging on his shoulder. Beneath each is inscribed the article of the Apostles' Creed that he is said by tradition to have composed.
We are currently repairing the Chapel's windows. Here is the two-headed dove, perched on the shoulder of the prophet Elisha, who had asked for a double portion of Elijah's spirit. The dove was in a sorry state: it had splintered into eleven tiny pieces of glass kept together by lead.
So here it is again, after its repair in 1996 - and when we have finished, Elisha's head as well will have been returned to its original form, as a single panel of glass.
The lovely statues stand on the front pews, added in the 1680s.
Beware these pews - far less comfortable than the stalls behind! - The 18th century grafitti includes names and dates scratched onto the wood by students only 12 years old. We have broader beams...
St Peter and St Paul guard the entrance: Peter with his keys, Paul with a sword. The four evangelists stand at the Chapel's centre, each with his own emblem - here is Mark with a surprisingly cosy lion. Flanking the sanctuary steps are Moses and Aaron, suitably robed as a priest.