St Peter-in-the-East is a fine 12th-century church in the center of Oxford that now functions as the library for St Edmund Hall, one of the colleges of Oxford University. St Peter's is surrounded by an ancient churchyard, grand old trees and tranquil lawns. The interior is not accessible but the exterior is the best part anyway.
Tradition has it that St Peter-in-the-East is named after the 5th-century San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome. It was originally just named "St Peter's," but when the Church of St Peter-le-Bailey was built at the Oxford castle, this one was given the more specific name St Peter-in-the-East. "In the East" refers to its location near the east gate of the city (which no longer exists). As an old Oxford saying goes:
St Peter-in-the-East Church was built around 1140 by Robert D'Oilly, William the Conqueror's constable in Oxford. This Norman church consisted of only a nave, chancel and crypt, ending just beyond the south door. The north aisle was added in the 13th century and the tower was erected in the 14th.
The entire exterior of the church is topped with a beautifully intricate border consisting of quatrefoils filled with flowers and other symbols. Gargoyles guard the corners on the west front. On the south side, grotesque heads and a variety of comical creatures, including a frog, a lamb, a cat and a grasshopper, hang below the quatrefoil border.
The interior has painted wooden ceilings and cleanly painted white walls, suitable for its current use as a library. Notable features include a chancel arch added in the early 13th century and the Lady Chapel (or North Chapel), also from the early 13th century.
The Lady Chapel was donated by Edmund Rich (a.k.a. Edmund of Abingdon, d. 1240), who was at the time a resident in the Hall next door. He later became Archbishop of Canterbury and a saint, and the Hall was named after him. There is a stained-glass portrait of him in the oldest window in Oxford (c.1280): the east window of St Michael at the North Gate.
St Peter's contains several old stained glass windows. The two east lancet windows date from the 13th century. The north window dates from 1433 and contains some glass from the 14th century. The window in the east wall of the chancel is from the 15th century and contains glass from both the 15th and 17th century. In the splays of the north and south windows you can see the blocked-up passages that led to the roof.
The crypt is entered from the south exterior wall, but is currently closed due to unsafe conditions.
The churchyard surrounding St Peter-in-the-East contains many well-worn tombstones carved with Georgian lettering. Separated from the busy city center by a strong stone wall, the churchyard lawn is a tranquil space that is filled with St Edmund's students on nice days.
St Peter-in-the-East is on the private grounds of St Edmund Hall and visitors are asked to register with the lodge (reception) on the way in. Coming from High Street, the entrance to St Edmund Hall is on the right side of Queen's Lane before the church. From the lodge, take a left through the quad.
The interior of the church is accessible only to St Edmund Hall's students, who enter the locked door via a keypad. Fortunately there is not too much to see of architectural interest inside - see "More Information" below for a virtual tour.
Quick Facts on the Church of St Peter-In-The-East (St Edmund Hall Library)
|Names:||Church of St Peter-In-The-East (St Edmund Hall Library) · St. Peter-in-the-East|
|Categories:||churches; academic libraries; Grade I listed buildings|
|Dates:||1140 and later|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||51.753536° N, 1.250124° W|
|Lodging:||View hotels near the Church of St Peter-In-The-East (St Edmund Hall Library)|
- Personal visit (April 28, 2007)
- St Edmund Hall Library - St Edmund Hall website
- Nikolaus Pevsner and Jennifer Sherwood, The Buildings of England: Oxfordshire (Yale University Press, 2002), 295-96.
- St Peter-in-the-East Photo Gallery
- Virtual Tour of St Edmund Hall - click on the dots inside the library for a 360-degree view of the interior
- The Story of Edmund Rich (St Edmund of Canterbury)
- St Edmund Rich - Catholic Encyclopedia
- Photos of the Church of St Peter-In-The-East (St Edmund Hall Library) - here on Sacred Destinations
Map of the Church of St Peter-In-The-East (St Edmund Hall Library), Oxford
Below is a location map and aerial view of the Church of St Peter-In-The-East (St Edmund Hall Library). Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.