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The original chapel was built for the Benedictine Durham College and dedicated on 27 January 1410. Sir Thomas Pope bought the buildings of Durham College to found Trinity College in 1555, and the chapel served his college for a further 150 years.
Sir Thomas Pope’s wife, Elizabeth, made provision in her will for a tomb in the chapel to house her remains and those of Sir Thomas, which still survives. Trinity is the only college in Oxford to contain the tomb of its founder.
Work on the current chapel began in 1691 instituted by Ralph Bathurst, president of the college, dean of Wells Cathedral and vice-chancellor of the University. He personally met the expense of the shell of the building, and seems to have directed its design with the master mason Bartholomew Peisley. The design was modified by Sir Christopher Wren, a friend of Bathurst and fellow member of the Royal Society. The interior involved the royal sculptor, Grinling Gibbons, and the French Huguenot painter, Pierre Berchet.
The chapel was consecrated in 1694 and was hailed by contemporaries as the most magnificent chapel in the University. Its dynamic integration of architecture, sculpture and painting is unrivalled amongst surviving ecclesiastical interiors in England.
The chapel has been changed little since it was built. The stained glass was added in 1885, the gift of the then Bursar, later President, Henry Woods. The organ, and organ loft, were installed in the 1960s.
The Chapel of Trinity College Oxford – Martin Kemp (Scala, 2013) provides a more detailed history and can be purchased from the college.
In April 2015 the chapel closed for a year-long programme of renovation, involving extensive conservation of the fabric, notably the Grinling Gibbons’ carvings, the plasterwork and the paintings. The chapel reopened with a service of rededication on 23 April 2016. The priceless Grinling Gibbon’s carvings, exquisite plasterwork and magnificent ceiling paintings have all been cleaned, repaired, and in the case of the carvings, the nineteenth-century black staining removed. A Victorian window has been returned to its original position above the entrance and the organ has been refurbished. A new lighting system shows the work off to very best effect and a full redecoration has returned the chapel to its original splendour.
An introduction to the project, filmed during the early stages of the work.