Foundation of the Dominican Order
The first Dominican friars came to Oxford at the command of St Dominic himself, arriving in August 1221, just 5 years after the Order’s foundation.
Oxford was chosen over London and Canterbury due to its intellectual eminence. New recruits were found among the scholars of Oxford, and soon Dominican friars occupied key positions including that of Chancellor of the University.
Having found their initial site too constrained for an expanding community of friars, a new site was found to the south of the city walls and close to the river, and a new priory was built thanks to the generosity of benefactor Isabel Bolbec de Vere, Countess of Oxford. The community relocated there in 1246, being joined at this time by a novice who was another benefactor, Walter Mauclerk, Bishop of Carlisle and Treasurer of England.
The following short video includes reconstructions of the medieval (2nd) Blackfriars and Greyfriars priories.
Dominican Friars would remain in prominent roles over the centuries, acting as advisors and confessors to a number of monarchs. On the eve of the Reformation, Blackfriars London hosted the dramatic testimony of Catherine of Aragon, attempting to resist attempts by Henry VIII to annul their marriage.
The Province collapsed at the dissolution of the monasteries, regrouping in exile in the Low Countries before eventually returning to England in the 18th century.
During their exile, the friars studied in Rome and then Louvain, where a Studium was formally established in 1721 and lasted until the French Revolution. A new Studium was officially set up at Hawkesyard in Staffordshire in 1910, before later moving to Oxford.
Only in 1921, under the visionary leadership of Fr Bede Jarrett OP, were the first foundations laid of a new priory in Oxford.
Fr Bede was an extraordinary and visionary man who was the first Dominican to study at Oxford University since the Reformation, and who expended much effort and energy in bringing the friars back to Oxford after four centuries of absence. As Fr Bernard Delany OP wrote in his obituary of Fr Bede [Blackfriars, May 1934],
The new Priory of Blackfriars in Oxford will remain the monument to his vision, faith and zeal. At the laying of the foundation stone by Cardinal Bourne in the presence of Cardinal Gasquet on the 15th of August, 1921, Father Bede spoke of his dream and hope of seeing the new Church and Priory completed. He said: ‘We are beginning without a penny, but we shall build as the money comes in.’ Eight years later he saw the opening of the Church and its consecration, free of debt.
The Dominicans began to move their Studium to the newly established Priory of the Holy Spirit (the present priory) in Oxford in 1929.
Blackfriars finally rejoined the University as a Permanent Private Hall in 1994. This status allows it to participate in the life of the University while retaining its religious identity and its non-University activities such as the formation of clergy in the Studium.
Blackfriars’ alumni and associates include bishops and abbots, heads of Oxford colleges, eminent lawyers, politicians, business leaders, thinkers and writers – men and women who value the gift of faith, the pastoral support, and the profound intellectual insights that they have received within these walls, and indeed the friendships that they have made with the friars and with each other.
Some of our better known associates include: