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The History of the Parish
The Church of SS Gregory and Augustine was founded in 1911, the same year as SS Edmund and Frideswide (Iffley Road, now run by the Capuchin Franciscans). Previously the Oxford area had been served by the Jesuits at St Aloysius (now an Oratory of St Philip Neri), which was founded in 1875, and the church of St Ignatius (in St Clements), which had been founded immediately after the relaxation of the penal laws forbidding the building of Catholic places of worship, in 1795.
St Ignatius' continued in use as a chapel of ease attached to St Aloysius until SS Edmund and Frideswide was built. The parochial system was re-established in England and Wales only in 1918, following the promulgation of the Code of Canon Law in 1917, so SS Gregory & Augustine's was actually founded as a 'mission' church. More Catholic parishes were established in the ensuing decades.
The architect was Ernest Newton, a much admired member of the Arts and Crafts movement. The fabric of the church is very little changed from the time of its foundation, as can be seen from these photographs taken in the 1940s. There has recently been a restoration of the Church which has included the painting of the Reredos (behind the Altar).
Nikolaus Pevsner described the church thus (1974): "By Ernest Newton. Small and stuccoed. A rectangle, white, with a cupola. W. window with a gently double-curved head. Plaster tunnel-vault inside with tie beams."
For more on the history of Catholic Oxford, see here.
These excellent photographs were recently found by Fr Saward. They show that the church has changed very little, except in some interesting respects:
What is now the side chapel, dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima, was at that time a wooden confessional. Although the wood carving is rather fine, it was found to be insufficiently sound-proof! It can't have been long after this photograph was taken that a special extension was built on the other side of the nave, to house the confessional more securely.
The altar is unchanged, but the sanctuary lamp now hangs to the right, rather than in the centre. This picture was taken at Easter (hence the Easter candle); notice the expert flower arrangments. And both Our Lady and St Joseph are wearing copes in honour of the feast!
The statues of Our Lady and St Joseph are also worth examining: the last picture shows clearly how she originally had a star-spangled halo, and her Son (if you look carefully) a sort of crown. Notice too the details on her robes, which was lost when the statues were repainted.
If you have any comments or memories connected with these, the 'comments' facility has been enabled, and we'd love to hear what you have to say.
There was a Deanery Corpus Christi procession in those days (a tradition which has been recently revived), and the parish procession took place on the Sunday after the Feast of the Sacred Heart.
These photographs show the impressive outside altar which was used (no longer in existence, alas), and the participation of Dominicans and Benedictines from their houses of study in the University. It must have been a truly splendid occasion.
Notice that when the priest is preaching (second picture), the exposed Blessed Sacrament is hidden behind a special screen called a 'baffle'.