13 January 2022, The Tablet

Reforming Oxford – a history in buildings and monuments

Reforming Oxford – a history in buildings and monuments

Catholicism set in stone: The Radcliffe Camera
Photo: Alamy, Robert Harding


A new online exhibition charts the religious upheavals in the university town, telling its tumultuous story through its built environment

Like many other cities in Britain, Oxford has been keenly shaped by religion – and specifically, the Reformation. During its course, three Protestant prelates (Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley) were burned in Broad Street under Queen Mary; and four Catholics (two priests and two laymen) were hanged, drawn and quartered at Holywell Gallows in 1589 under Elizabeth I, with a fifth executed at Oxford Castle in 1610 under James I.  

But religious upheavals of these times affected more than individual lives and how they were remembered: they also transformed the cityscape, as a new digital exhibition, “Oxford Re-Formed” on the Museum of Oxford website, shows. Using images of buildings and objects in Oxford, it maps the many religious tensions and conflicts, explaining how they shaped and reshaped the physical fabric of the city over the centuries. It also reveals how the Reformation past is contested, with different Christian groups commemor­ating their heroes and villains with a focus very much on their present-day battles. And, finally, the exhibition traces how from being a Catholic and then a Protestant stronghold, the city and the university gradually became more tolerant and global in its outlook.

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