Friars came and settled in Oxford from all over Europe, soon after the University was established. Among their number was William of Ockham, who coined the maxim known as ‘Ockham’s Razor’: “It is vain to do with more what can be done with fewer”. Another was Roger Bacon who, in the fourteenth century, foresaw gunpowder and flying machines.
The Oxford monasteries were dissolved with all the rest by Henry VIII. Traces of them all remain, the most obvious being the ruins of Godstow Nunnery.
Charles Wesley was an undergraduate at Lincoln, and John a don of the same college. From the time when John Wesley devoted himself to the cause of spreading ‘spiritual holiness’ to his death, fifty years later, he confessed to having wasted 15 minutes, in reading a ‘worthless book’. The pious approach to life was not popular in Oxford, where Wesley was known to preach for up to two hours at a time, much of his discourse being taken up with condemnation of the self-indulgent habits of the populace.
In the 1830s and 40s, the arguments associated with the Oxford Movement and its attempts to bring about a spiritual revival in the Church gripped Oxford to an extent it would be hard to imagine today. Tempers ran high at meetings, churches were packed for sermons and tracts and condemnations flew back and forth. Newman eventually joined the Roman Catholic Church, to the desolation of his followers, though Pusey and Keble both stayed within the Church of England.
Frank Buchman was an American evangelist preaching ‘world-changing through life-changing’. As well as group confession of sins, his Oxford group set aside a ‘quiet time’ each day for the reception of messages from God about current events. The Group grew into the internationally influential Moral Rearmament Movement, which was thought to have Fascist sympathies. It reached its peak in the 1950s, but lost impetus with Buchman’s death in 1961.
Monastic Oxford of the Past
Little trace can be seen of most of the former monasteries, though the old Priory next to the Kassam Stadium became a farmhouse and is still a beautiful building, though currently dilapidated and awaiting its next incarnation. Godstow Nunnery still boasts a fine set of ruins on Port Meadow. And Rewley Abbey was sited in the grounds of what is now Said Business School, who have made a slit window in their curtain wall so you can see in to where the abbey was.
Religious Oxford Now
At one time Oxford was peppered with monasteries, friaries, priories and nunneries. These days there are still a fair few religious orders around, including St Benet's Hall, an outpost of Ampleforth Abbey enabling monks to study here as well as taking in a small number of undergraduates. There are two convents in East Oxford - All Saints Sisters of the Poor, who have a fine collection of church embroidery, and The Convent of the Incarnation at Fairacres which has a lovely apple orchard with bees.