John Keble was a very humble and a very good man. His contemporaries were in no doubt; they believed him to be a living saint. Immediately after his death in 1866, they decided to build an Oxford College in his memory that would offer affordable university education in strict fidelity to the teaching of the Church of England. William Butterfield, architect of All Saints’ Margaret Street, was an obvious choice of architect, not least for his serious Tractarian views.

Consecrated in 1876 (on 25 April, Keble’s birthday), the chapel is an example of the architect’s streaky bacon style in polychromatic brick and stone. It was financed by William Gibbs, who had earlier employed Butterfield to build his home, Tyntesfield. Butterfield and the first Tractarians were at one in believing that one altar was quite enough for a church, and it was not until 1890 that the south chapel was built. This side chapel is not immediately obvious on entering the main building, and you have to penetrate deep into the interior to espy its entrance.

Its main purpose was to house Holman Hunt’s great painting, The Light of the World, which shows Christ knocking on the door of the human soul (to judge by the weeds and the rust on the nails and hinges, this door is long disused). This painting was based upon Revelation 3.20: ‘Behold I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear my voice and open the door I will come in to him and will sup with him and he with me.’ It came to have enormous influence on the Victorians, and we do well to reflect on it today.

Reflect: ‘Blest are the pure in heart, For they shall see our God; The secret of the Lord is theirs; Their soul is Christ’s abode.’

Consider whether you are afraid to open your heart to Christ.

Simon Cotton