Corpus Christi College Oxford

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Hall Frieze


During the re-roofing work in the Hall during January 2011 we have taken the opportunity to photograph and record the rather fine carved frieze at high level on the East and West sides of the Hall. There are six sections on each side and on one panel in the fifth section on the West side the date 1516 is carved three times.


Corpus Christi College was built under the direction of William Vertue, mason, and Humphrey Coke, carpenter, both important craftsmen in the King's Works at Westminster. The roof of the hall was designed by Coke and built under his direction. He had previously also worked at Eton College, and went on to design the roof of Cardinal College (now Christ Church), Oxford. It is possible that Coke also planned the frieze at the top of the walls, although it is likely that it was carved by local workmen. Possible candidates are Robert Carow, who undertook work in many Oxford colleges and is known to have worked at Corpus - in 1517 he was paid £2 for making 20 beds - and Cornelius Clerke, who built the desks and benches in the library, parts of which still survive.


Some of the panels of the frieze are purely decorative, but others have particular meanings. The College's Founder, Richard Fox, is represented by a mitre, by his emblem of the pelican pecking its breast to feed its young, and the arms of the diocese of Winchester, of which he was bishop (the keys of St. Peter crossed with the sword of St. Paul). Fox's royal master Henry VIII is represented by the portcullis of the Tudors, while Katherine of Aragon is represented by the Spanish pomegranate (Granada in Spanish). The sacred heart surrounded by a crown of thorns forms part of the late medieval iconography of the sufferings of Jesus, and is closely connected with the image of the self-wounding pelican. The identity of the owner of a chequered coat-of arms surrounded by a Garter, and the exact significance of the Warwick bear and ragged staff, have yet to be established. The date 1516, repeated three times on a shield, confirms that the hall, unlike other parts of the college, was complete by the time the college officially opened in March 1517.


 


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