The chapel of Keble College is arguably the most distinctive in Oxford. Even from the exterior, one is immediately struck by its red brick and contrasting banding patterns. And once one steps inside, the level of detail is almost overwhelming. The chapel, like the rest of the original college facilities, was the brainchild of architect William Butterfield. Construction on the chapel was begun in 1873 thanks to the patronage of William Gibbs (the chapel being the first of three buildings at Keble funded by his family). It was then dedicated three years later on St. Mark’s Day (also John Keble’s birthday) 1876.
The inside of Butterfield’s masterpiece is a whirlwind of color and geometry, but certainly not at the expense of religious artistry (it is Anglican, after all, not Calvinist). Repeated patterns are everywhere, and mosaic details below the clerestory level and around the reredos are stunning. It is easy to see how one might be distracted by all of the artistic interest surrounding worshipers.
Perhaps one of the greatest architectural details of the chapel is not the visual element, but the acoustic. The space envelops the congregation in a wash of lush, warm tones. The choir and organ certainly do their fair share to help with this. The choir is often regarded as one of the best non-professional choirs of Oxford.
The organ at Keble is, despite its appearance, is the newest at the university. It was built by Kenneth Tickell and Company of Northampton and installed in 2011. The façade of the organ remains from the previous instrument installed when the chapel was built. The style of the instrument is decidedly English, and it speaks with a warm clarity into the space which mesmerizes the senses. The Great principal chorus, grounded by two Open Diapason ranks, is lush and strong; the solo Posaune, powerful and piercing enough to recapture people wantering attention.