All Souls College, Oxford

All Souls College in Oxford was founded in 1438 by the King of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Its fine chapel was completed in 1442 and features a magnificent stone reredos.


History of All Souls College

All Souls College was founded by King Henry VI and Henry Chichele, Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1438. Its stated purposes were the "service of Church and State" to learning and society.

All Souls was founded as a chantry, meaning that its members were required to pray for the souls of those in Purgatory, especially of those killed in France during the Hundred Years War.

The statutes provided for a warden and 40 fellows, of which all would take Holy Orders, 24 would study arts, philosophy and theology, and 16 would study civil or canon law.

The fine chapel of All Souls was built between 1438 and 1442 by the master-mason Richard Chevynton of Abingdon. The carved reredos dates from c.1447 but has been almost completely rebuilt following its destruction by Puritans. John Branche, the master-carpenter, probably designed the chapel roof, but the angels were the responsibility of a carver, Richard Tyllok.

The Reformation of the mid-16th century led to the suppression of the college’s role as a chantry and its "idolatrous monuments" were swept away. The present chapel is strongly marked by 18th and 19th century tastes. The green-and-gold screen was designed by Sir James Thornhill in 1716.

What to See at All Souls College

All Souls Chapel is designed in the stripped-down version of Perpendicular that was in fashion at the time. Its layout is a T-pattern found also in Merton and New College, with a chancel and transepts but no nave.

The great height of the antechapel and the slender columns which support the roof create an elegant space for the tombs and memorials of Fellows, Wardens and College Servants from 1461 to the present.

The large stained glass window in the west wall is known as the Royal Window. Dating from the mid-15th-century but much restored, it was originally located in the Old Library of All Souls. The kings depicted in the window originally included Constantine, Arthur, Ethelbert, Oswald, Alfred, Edmund, Athelstan, Edgar, Edward the Martyr, Edward the Confessor, and Henrys IV-VI. The smaller windows in the antechapel contain some original 15th-century glass.

In the chapel proper, the two most distinctive features are the original hammer-beam roof and the reredos. The reredos was constructed in about 1447 and originally contained an array of bishops, saints and monarchs, arranged in curved rows on either side of a crucifixion scene and rising to a Doom (Last Judgment) at the apex. The original statues were smashed by Puritans in the 1550s, but the niches and canopies mostly survived behind a wooden cover.

What remained of the reredoes was rediscovered in the 1870s, still showing traces of the original polychrome decoration. The tracery was restored by Sir Gilbert Scott and new statues were designed and carved by a Polish sculptor, Emanuel Geffowski. They were paid for by a subscription amongst the Fellows, above all by Earl Bathurst, whose statue appears at the north side of the lower tier.

The chapel contains 40 stalls, for the 40 Fellows of the original foundation. The woodwork includes a fine series of misericords, similar to those at Higham Ferrers; they are also perhaps the work of Richard Tyllock.

Quick Facts on All Souls College

Site Information
Names:All Souls College
Categories:academic buildings; colleges
Dedication: All Souls
Dates:1438-18th C
Status: active
Visitor and Contact Information
Coordinates:51.753523° N, 1.253128° W
Address:Radcliffe Square
Oxford, England
Phone:(0)1865 279379
Email:contact form on website
Hours:Mon-Fri 2-4pm when the college is open, or by appointment
Lodging:View hotels near All Souls College
Note: This information was accurate when first published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours and prices can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip.


  1. Personal visits (2005-07).
  2. All Souls College - official website
  3. All Souls College, Oxford - Wikipedia

More Information

All Souls College from the tower of St Mary's Church. © Holly Hayes
All Souls College viewed from the entrance gate. © Holly Hayes
View of All Souls College across Radcliffe Square. © Holly Hayes
Pinnacles and towers of All Souls College in Radcliffe Square. © Holly Hayes
Facade of All Souls overlooking the High Street (part of the Front Quad). © Holly Hayes
Interior of All Souls College Chapel, with impressive stone reredos. © Holly Hayes
Antechapel of All Souls College Chapel. © Holly Hayes

Map of All Souls College, Oxford

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