Bishop Edward King Chapel


The practice was commissioned to design a new chapel for Ripon Theological College in Cuddesdon, after winning an RIBA competition in 2009. The clients for the project were the College and the Sisters of St John the Baptist, a small community of nuns resident on the site.

On the site is an enormous beech tree on the brow of the hill.  Facing away from the beech and the college buildings behind, there is a ring of mature trees on high ground overlooking the valley that stretches away towards Garsington. This clearing has its own particular character, full of wind and light and the rustling of leaves. Our design sought to capture these qualities within the building.

The project encapsulates two architectural images. The first is a gentle hollow in the ground as a meeting place for the community. The second is a delicate ship-like timber structure that rises into the treetops to gather sunlight coming through the leaves. The first idea speaks of ground, of meeting in the still centre. The second idea suggests an uplifting buoyancy, rising towards the light. The way in which these two opposite forces work off each other is what gives the building its particular character.

The starting point for the project was the hidden word ‘nave’ at the centre of Seamus Heaney poem Lightenings viii. The word describes the central space of a church but shares the same origin as ‘navis’, a ship, and can also mean the still centre of a turning wheel. We created an elliptical enclosure holding two banks of seating facing across a central space in an antiphonal arrangement. The central space had an altar and a lectern for the liturgies of the word and of the eucharist.

A cluster of smaller spaces surround the elliptical nave: a sacristy, a side chapel for the Sisters, a place of reservation for the Blessed Sacrement, and a small seat for private contemplation, jettied out over the valley below.

The building is made from Clipsham stone laid in a dog-tooth pattern. It is surmounted with a carousel of clerestory windows with stone mullions. Inside, there is an overarching timber frame supporting the roof and simple wooden benches for the congregation.

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