Chapels and wild strawberries
The Convent of the Incarnation
With my teaching ending at 10:20am, it was going to be a mad rush to get across Oxford in order to meet The Reverend Mother, Clare-Louise of The Convent of the Incarnation at 11am. Not only did it require sympathetic bus times, but also a very fast walk across the centre of Oxford between the two bus routes, while laden with a very full camera bag and tripod.
I arrived a little late, but where better to ask forgiveness?! The Cowley Road / Iffley Road area of East Oxford was home to me for my four student years and yet I was unaware of the various convents and friaries that seem to congregate there.
My arrival at The Convent, known as Fairacres, was critically timed: just a few days later the site was to be closed temporarily for several months while it undergoes extensive renovations and some rebuilding. The present chapel dates back to 1923 and its comparatively simple, bright appearance contrasts with previous dark oak collegiate seating together with more ornately decorated walls.
Just a short walk from The Convent of the Incarnation lies the previously visited Chapel of St John the Divine, within The Friary. Today’s revisit served two purposes – it allowed me the chance to compare my edited image of the East Window with the window in situ, but also afforded the chance to photograph the ‘signature’ wild strawberry that confirmed the window as being one by Ninian Comper.
For this purpose I was traveling with the Canon Extender EF 1.4x III, to give my 100-400mm leans an extended reach of 560mm – sufficient, I hoped to identify and capture in high resolution the signature images. To my surprise, I was able to identify two wild strawberry plants within the window, each located below a shield.From 1903 Comper signed his windows with a wild strawberry, in memory of his father, an Anglican priest who died suddenly while distributing strawberries to poor parishioners.
St Stephen’s House
My third port of call for the day was a considerable distance nearer the centre of Oxford, but on a pleasant autumn day, the walk was rather enjoyable. Being the location of three chapels, I was doubtful that time would allow for the photography of the College Chapel: St John the Evangelist and its stained glass, as I had to return to teach in the mid afternoon. Purely by chance, the College Chapel and the House Chapel share a link with The Friary – both featured work by Ninian Comper.
St Stephen’s House is an Anglican theological foundation established in 1876, and has been a Permanent Private Hall of the University of Oxford since 2003. In 1980 it moved to the current site, formerly the mother-house of the Society of St John the Evangelist (SSJE), also known as the Cowley Fathers. SSJE was founded in 1866 with the building of the Mission House on Marston Street under architect Clapton Crabbe Rolfe. In the attic of the Mission House lies the small, simple yet beautiful Founder’s Chapel.
The main body of college was designed by the English Gothic Revival architect George Frederick Bodley. Built in 1899, it is his largest work on a single site.
To the north-east of the site lies the House Chapel, which still features original stalls and screen. It was expanded between 1937-9 by Ninian Comper to include two short transepts and two sacristies. Comper’s vision for this building was restored with the reinstatement of an eastward facing altar in 2009.