May Morning anniversary celebration

26 April 2024

This is a very special May Morning for Magdalen College as it coincides with the 550th anniversary of Magdalen College Chapel.

William Waynflete founded Magdalen on 12 June 1458, but it wasn’t until 5 May 1474 that the foundation stone of the Chapel was laid by then President of Magdalen, William Tybard, and blessed by Bishop Robert Tully of St David’s. 

Work on the Chapel was completed in around 1480. However, it has undergone some dramatic changes since that time, most notably just a few decades after its completion when the altar, organ, and stained glass windows were destroyed during the Reformation in 1551. 

The Chapel has been overseen since the fifteenth century by Deans of Divinity which have included historian and theologian James Matthew Thompson, poet and founding member of the ‘Inklings’ Adam Fox, and John Rouse Bloxam, seen below (fourth from the right) in ‘May Morning at Magdalen College’ by William Holman Hunt.

The Choir of Magdalen College has sung in the Chapel since 1480, and is considered one of the finest in the country. It is perhaps best known for singing from the top of Magdalen’s Great Tower during the May Morning celebrations. 

As well as winning many awards, the Choir has collaborated with film composer George Fenton on the soundtrack to Shadowlands, worked with Sir Paul McCartney, and featured on the award-winning soundtrack for the BBC TV series, Blue Planet.

The choirmaster at Magdalen retains the ancient Latin title Informator Choristarum, and among those who have held the post over the centuries are composers John Sheppard, Daniel Purcell, Sir John Stainer, Sir William McKie, Dr Bernard Rose, and Benjamin Rogers who composed the Hymnus Eucharisticus which is sung from the Great Tower every May Morning. 

Former choristers include the composer Ivor Novello and composer and singer Roderick Williams OBE. Former Organ Scholars include the late comedian and actor Dudley Moore and Anna Lapwood MBE. 

The Chapel has been the spiritual heart of the College for over five centuries and we hope that it remains so for the next 500 years…at least. 

Magdalen College will celebrate the 550th anniversary of the Chapel foundation with a series of ceremonies, services and seminars. All are welcome.

A full list of events are available here