There are several good reasons to visit the Sheldonian Theatre.
First, this is an early architectural masterpiece of Christopher Wren, built in 1664-1668. Wren was at that time Professor of Astronomy at Oxford. The building has an unusual shape, semicircular at one end and rectangular at the other. The inspiration was the Theater of Marcellus in Rome.
Second, the Sheldonian Theatre today is the venue for university ceremonies: Matriculation, degree ceremonies, and the Encaenia (an annual ceremony where honorary academic degrees are conferred). With a little bit of imagination you can take a seat and picture the solemn atmosphere, the speeches, the sacred University traditions... Looking up at the painted ceiling you can see the triumph of Truth over Ignorance: how appropriate! (17th century, painted by Robert Streeter, court painter to Charles II).
Last but not least, the admission ticket includes the cupola, which affords excllent views of the spires of Oxford.
concerts and other cultural events also take place here: check the website below for details.
Just opposite Blackwell's, you see some weird looking heads of old men, locally called the Emperor's Heads. While they stoically watch the traffic on Broad Street, you should head for the building behind them: Sheldonian Theatre. It was built from 1664-1668 by Christopher Wren, who was later to become famous by his monumental cathedral, St. Paul's, in London. When he built the Sheldonian, however, he was almost unknown.
The Sheldonian is and has always been a multi-purpose building. Concerts take place there regularly, but also lectures by Nobel prize winners and the like. For Oxford students, however, the Sheldonian is the final point of their studies. Every now and then, the official graduation ceremonies take place there. All students will wear their gown, hood and subfusc (i.e. the full academic dress) and receive their degree. It's an interesting sight to see dozens of young students wearing this and walking through the centre with their similarly dignified looking parents. Click here for the dates of the graduation ceremonies.
In summer it is also possible to visit the inside of Sheldonian Theatre. The main hall with its interestingly painted ceiling is well worth a visit, but also the roughly 100 steps up to the cupola from where you can enjoy a very nice view over Oxford.
Designed by Christopeher Wren for the university in 1664 - 68 named after the main financial backer & chancellor of the university. This is where the university holds all its public meetings such as the giving out of honoury degrees & doctorates ie: Bishop Tutu, Charlie Chaplin & Alec Guiness to name a few.
Surrounding the gate of the entrance to the Sheldonian are statues of Bearded Gentlemen as the guardians of the theatre they have been targeted by students giving them blue beards & various other brightly coloured paint.
I believe you can visit the theatre but it is currently undergoing renovation works. Cost is GBP2 check the website for opening times
Some argue that this was Sir Christopher Wren's first building, some his second. Either way, it never has been at any time a theatre. It was built for the ceremonial activities of the University. Specifically Matriculation (when you join) and Congregation (when you leave). To be fair, it is also used for a range of other events and concerts.
Despite this, the local council still see fit to put up the brown tourist signs directing you to the Sheldonian with two masks on it - indicating a playhouse theatre !
I've not ventured inside, but for a small fee you can admire what was the largest unsupported floor and a painted roof (although I think most of it is still undergoing restoration)
I was actually more impressed by the statues outside the rear of the Sheldonian which faces onto Broad street. i've been unable to find out what exactly they are supposed to be of. They certainly have a sort of comical quality about them. I believe they are often reffered to as the 'Twelve apostles'. I doubt that is true due to the fact that the Sheldonian has always been a secular building. Any offers ?
Designed in the 1660's by Sir Christopher Wren, then a professor of astronomy at Oxford, later famous for designing St Paul's Cathedral, many churches in London and the Greenwich Observatory, the Sheldonian Theatre is the venue of university ceremonies, such as conferring degrees. However, it is also known to have been used for other ceremonials. In 1814 the Prince Regent, Tsar Alexander I of Russia and King Frederick William III of Prussia met here to celebrate - if a little too soon - the downfall of Napoleon Bonaparte. The ceremony at the Sheldonian was followed by dinner at the Radcliffe Camera. The list of the greats who have received honorary degrees and doctorates here is long. Let me just mention such names as Ralph Vaughan Williams, Dmitri Shostakovich, Placido Domingo, Charlie Chaplin and Alec Guinness.
The Theatre featured in many films. Sir John Gielgud led an Encaenia procession here in 'Not a Penny More Not a Penny Less'. And once even a horse was allowed into the building to act in a court scene of 'The Lady and the Highwayman', a popular teleplay.
The shape of the building itself is modelled on the open-air Theatre of Marcellus in Rome. An architectural feat of the time, its 24 by 21 m roof is covered with an allegorical painting by Robert Streeter representing 'Truth descending on the Arts and Sciences'. The octagonal cupola, designed by Edward Blore, was added in 1831.
Another interesting element are the pillars with carved heads in front of the building. These have had to be replaced twice, once due to natural deterioration of the stone and the second time after having been daubed with paint by students. Not that they knew whose images they were defacing - nobody knows who these heads, each with a different beard, were supposed to represent. Some say philosophers, others the apostles and still others emperors.
References: David Parkinson 'Oxford at the Movies', 2003
The Sheldonian Theatre was built from1664 till 1668 and is part of the Oxford University. The Theatre seats 800 people during a concert and for conferences the capacity is somewhat higher with 1000 seats.
The Theatre is almost surrounded with sculptures of heads. These are anonymous figures and probably don't even represent anyone. They are amazingly detailed and worth checking out.
Oxford was a Saxon town at a point where River Cherwell meets The Thames.
The first college was built in the 13th century & one of them was called 'university'.
Today, there are 39 colleges spreading over Oxford.
On the right side or rather at the end of Broad Street, you would see Sheldonian Theater.
It is The New College main public building.
It was built in 1667.
Infos :Admission : 1.50 pounds
Open : 10 am to 12.30 pm & 2 pm to 4.30 pm
Monday to Saturday
A beautiful building built in 1664-8 from plans by Sir Christopher Wren who died some years earlier. A Domed round building, it is surrounded by great stone heads outside & these give the exterior a character all of its own.
It is known here both for concert & conference & is available for hire - a prestigious place to hold such an event as a conference. As such, it seats 800 for concert, 1,000 for conference. A most beautiful & impressive piece of architecture.
Architecture by Sir Christopher Wren
If you are a fan of Sir Chris (most of London, notably St. Paul's), don't miss checking out the Sheldonian Theatre. This was the work that made Wren's reputation as an architect.
This building continues to be used to hold Oxford public ceremonies. It was designed by Christopher Wren.
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