History of the Chapel

The existing Chapel is the third on the site. The first was under construction in 1328, when the Abbot of Reading assisted with gifts of money, tools, and materials. The second Chapel was built in about 1525: memoranda of contracts with Master Masons William Eist and John Lobbens survive. It was pulled down in 1856.

William Butterfield was the architect for the present building (1857). His design has been much attacked, and there was a serious offer to pay for demolition and reconstruction in 1912 which the College rejected as a waste of money.

Inside, most of Butterfield’s furnishings and decorations have been replaced, and the most interesting features are either recent (e.g. the silver gilt altar, 1927) or survivals from the Chapel he demolished (the crowned brazen eagle lectern of c.1630, the Jacobean pulpit, and the stained glass). The memorial tablets are mostly post-1860 and do not commemorate actual burials. A few which do, from the old Chapel, were put together by Butterfield in a corner of the Antechapel – there were probably more, but not many more, as the nearby Parish Church of St Mary Magdalen seems to have been the College’s usual burial place.

The altar cloth was hand embroidered by Mary Addison to commemorate the Balliol’s 750th anniversary in 2013 (she was Library Assistant at the time). 

In the entrance passage to the Chapel are the war memorials listing Balliol members who died in the First and Second World Wars.

Stained glass

The stained glass, which is mostly of the 16th and 17th centuries, was reset in 1912. Some of it, including the first window from the east on the south side, was provided by Laurence Stubbs (President of Magdalen College 1518–1525) in 1529, shortly after the death of his brother Richard (Master 1518–1525). The main panel depicts scenes from the suffering and resurrection of Christ, but the bottom line includes portraits of Laurence (second from left) and Richard Stubbs (second from the right). The second window on the south side contains fragments of 16th-century glass. The first two windows from the east on the north side represent the sickness and recovery of Hezekiah; they were made by A. van Linge in 1637. The next two windows on the north side hold miscellanies of 15th- and 16th-century fragments. The kneeling figure is Thomas Chace (Master c.1410–1425). The facing windows in the Ante-Chapel were also made in 1637 by A. van Linge; they show the story of St Philip preaching to the Eunuch from Ethiopia, and were, of course, originally intended to be seen side by side.

Another window tells the legend of St Catherine, the Patron Saint of the College. Her festival (25 November) is celebrated each year with a traditional dinner, in accordance with a custom which was already well established by 1550 (in which year the accounts show that a peacock was served up).