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When Somerville opened in 1879, the College was founded to be ‘undenominational.’ In other words, while Oxford Colleges generally aligned themselves with Anglicanism or Catholicism, Somerville chose to have no affiliation to any particular church.
In 1935 the Chapel was opened, following a generous donation from former student Emily Georgiana Kemp. Kemp was an adventurer, writer and artist, and came from a wealthy Baptist family. Through her extensive travels she had developed an interest in the world’s religions and a wide, inclusive vision of Christianity.
It was her desire that the Chapel, although dedicated to Christ, would be a place where members of all nationalities and religions could pray. The inscription on the outside of the Chapel in Greek translates as ‘A House of Prayer for all People.’ This is a verse from the Book of Isaiah, which is referred to by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew.
True to its foundation, the College does not have a Chaplain, but a ‘Chapel Director’ who coordinates events and services but who cannot show denominational affiliation. In addition to providing opportunities for traditional Christian worship and in keeping with the College’s liberal and inclusive tradition, the Chapel hosts speakers with a range of religious perspectives. Past invited speakers include Rabbis, authors, politicians, Christian bishops, Daoist thinkers, atheist philosophers and many others besides.
The Chapel is also the base of operations for the exceptional Choir of Somerville College, which goes on regular tours and has published several albums with commercial labels.
The following regular events take place in the Chapel:
- Every morning, 9:00-9:30, Quiet time
- Tuesdays, 8:30-9:00, Saying the Rosary
- Fridays, 20:00-20:15, Evening Prayer
Details of current services and events are displayed on the notice board outside the Chapel and are listed on the Chapel Events page. For more information about the Chapel’s history, please visit the Chapel blog or contact our Chapel Director, Brian McMahon.
Since Hilary Term 2016 we have moved to an electronic booking system for members of Somerville wishing to reserve time in the Chapel during term for music practice or other events (e.g. lectures; concerts). Rather than make a booking through the Bursary, members of College should follow the steps in this short guide: Chapel Booking