Fr. Simon Gaine's book, now out in paperback.
The friars first came to Oxford on 15 August 1221. They had been sent to England by a 'General Chapter' of their Order, which met under the presidency of St Dominic in Bologna. The small band of thirteen friars made their first foundation not in Canterbury or London, the ecclesiastical and political centres of England, but in Oxford, the country's intellectual capital. There they would find recruits among the University's students and masters, and bring the benefit of an Oxford education to Dominican preaching.
With the help of the Mayor and other leading citizens, the first Blackfriars was built in the Jewish Quarter, between today's Town Hall and Christ Church. There was little room for expansion, and in 1245 a new site was obtained through the generosity of the Countess of Oxford outside the city walls where a new Priory for ninety friars and a large preaching church were built by the river. The English Parliament met there in 1258.
The daily life of prayer, study, and preaching ended abruptly in 1538 at the Reformation, which saw the dissolution by Henry VIII of all religious houses in his kingdom. Many friars fled abroad. The Priory gradually fell into ruins, and today only two archways remain on the site.
The foundation stone of a third Priory was laid on 15 August 1921. Dedicated to the Holy Spirit, it was founded by Father Bede Jarrett, the first Dominican friar to study at Oxford since the Reformation. In bringing the Order back to the University and to the city he was helped by an American donor, Mrs Charlotte Jefferson Tytus, who purchased the site, then partly occupied by three houses on St Giles.
The new Priory was designed by the architect Doran Webb and construction stopped in 1929. The full community arrived on 17 May 1929, and the church was consecrated three days later. A tower was added in the 1950s, but the building remains essentially unfinished.
More than twenty friars currently live and work at Blackfriars. Their preaching extends beyond the Priory church into a wide variety of apostolic ministries. In particular, they study and teach in the Dominican Studium and in Blackfriars Hall, a Private Hall of the University of Oxford, where they are joined by other students with a variety of religious backgrounds from all over the world, who share their enthusiasm for Philosophy and Theology.
The first years of the 21st century have brought us new opportunities and challenges, as we seek to renew and enhance our apostolic mission. We continue to be blessed with vocations, young friars eager to receive the theological formation essential for evangelization and a fruitful dialogue between Catholic Faith and wider culture.
In our Hall and Studium we look to welcome more people who share our passion for discovering and communicating the truth. To meet this goal, we are seeking to provide expanded facilities, new courses, summer schools and conferences, making use of new media for learning. At the heart of our plans is the recently founded Aquinas Institute, which we hope will receive funding for research scholarships and student bursaries.
Blackfriars aims to be a unique centre where theologians, philosophers and those with expertise from many walks of life can learn from each other and in partnership rediscover the attractiveness of faith and its importance in the realities of today's world.
Please pray for our brother, Joseph Bailham, OP, who made Solemn Profession last Friday here in Oxford.