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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 faith.
It was her desire that the Chapel 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 does not show denominational affiliation. 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
- Wednesdays, 17:00-18:00, Mindfulness Session with Barbara Gabrys and Boris Motik
Details of current 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.
If you are a member of college, and would like to book the chapel for music practice, lectures, concerts or other events, please follow the steps in this short guide: Chapel Booking
If you are not a member of college, and are interested in using the chapel for your event (such as a rehearsal, concert, or recording), then please contact the Director of Chapel Music or College Bursary, who can discuss your needs.
For enquiries about weddings, Christenings and other ceremonies, please contact the Chapel Director.
Every Wednesday in Michaelmas Term there will be a 45 minute mindfulness mediation session in the Chapel beginning at 6pm. These sessions are designed to teach and support the practice of mindful self-awareness, and may be of particular interest to those preparing for exams. The sessions are free and open to all, including postgraduates and members of staff. There is no requirement to attend regularly, and no need to bring anything – just yourself.
Although the practice of mindfulness has its roots in the Buddhist tradition, students of all faiths and none are welcome to attend these sittings, which are entirely secular in character.