Repurposed buildings: churches

Repurposed buildings: churches

Universities very often began their existence in buildings originally constructed for other purposes. 

One of the most celebrated universities in the seventeenth century -- in Leiden -- is a prominent case in point.  The first of Leiden's buildings, and its historic centrepiece to this day -- the so-called 'Academiegebouw' on the Rapenburg (Image 1) -- is the former chapel of the Dominican 'White Nuns', secularised shortly before the university's foundation in 1575.  Stripped of its decoration in the iconoclastic riots of 1566, and secularised in 1574, it has been used by the university since 1581.  For a decade the University Library was housed here, until it received its own building in 1591. Printers and booksellers congregated in the neighbourhood of the building, and Leiden's famous botanical garden was founded behind it.  In 1616 the chapel was divided into two floors, with the Great Auditorium below and a senate chamber above, now filled the portraits of illustrious professors (Image 2). In 1632 a square wooden tower was added to house what Leiden regards as the oldest university observatory in the world.

For several centuries of its early history, Oxford also conducted many of its central functions in a church: St Mary's on the High Street was used for University meetings, examinations, disputations, ceremonies, sessions of the Chancellor’s Court, and sermons for examination as well as ordinary preaching, not to mention the safe-keeping of the University chest or treasury. Around 1320, a two-story extension was constructed in the northeast corner of the building.  The ground floor of the extension was occupied by Old Congregation House, which hosted the meetings of what had been supreme legislative authority within the University before late 13th century and was again between 1508 and 1636 (the room is not occupied by the Vaults & Garden Café).  The upper floor of the extension was built to house Oxford’s first university library. Further information available here.

Image 1: Academiegebouw, Leiden University. Source: photo by Pete Bob, 20 September 2012; Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0 NL).
Image 2: Senaatskamer, Academiegebouw, Leiden University.  Source: Effeietsanders, 11 Sept. 2010; Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0 NL).

Image 3: The University Church of St Mary the Virgin viewed from Radcliffe Square. Photo by David Iliff, 8 March 2015. Source: Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-SA 3.0).  

Credit. Howard Hotson (June 2018)