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The Divine Office - Choral Music in Oxford

Ten choirs and instrumental groups, eight chapels and churches, 17 concerts (including the complete Divine Office), three lectures.

The Divine Office (the eight services of the monastic day, performed at their intended times between 1.00am and 10.00pm) is the most spiritually charged and aesthetically intense experience to have emerged from western civilisation.

The oldest and finest of college choirs participate – Magdalen, Merton, New College and The Queen’s College.

Internationally acclaimed professional choirs – The Tallis Scholars, Stile Antico and Aurora Nova – and top-class period ensemble The Instruments of Time & Truth.

Based in Oxford throughout, one of the world’s great historic cities, whose magnificent college chapels are uniquely apposite for this celebration of church music.

Music from the Renaissance to the present day, and from many European countries as well as Britain, including many Oxford alumni.

28 Sep - 02 Oct 2020 £2,580 Book this tour

  • Magdalen bell tower, Oxford, 1924–1926. By George F. Nicholls. Heritage-Images / The Print Collector ©akg-images.
    Magdalen bell tower, Oxford, 1924–1926. By George F. Nicholls. Heritage-Images / The Print Collector ©akg-images.
  • Stile Antico ©Marco Borggreve
    Stile Antico ©Marco Borggreve.
  • The Tallis Scholars ©Nick Rutter
    The Tallis Scholars ©Nick Rutter.
  • Peter Phillips ©Valérie Batselaere
    Peter Phillips ©Valérie Batselaere.
  • Westminster Cathedral Choir ©Simon Tottman
    Westminster Cathedral Choir ©Simon Tottman.
  • Instruments of Time & Truth ©Nick Rutter
    Instruments of Time & Truth ©Nick Rutter.
  • Magdalen College Choir
    Magdalen College Choir
  • The Queen's College Choir ©Nick Rutter
    The Queens College Choir ©Nick Rutter.
  • Aurora Nova ©Graham Lacdao
    Aurora Nova ©Graham Lacdao.
  • Contrapunctus ©John Cairns
    Contrapunctus ©John Cairns.
  • Merton College Choir ©John Cairns
    Merton College Choir ©John Cairns.
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Seventeen concerts, including the complete Divine Office: this festival is a truly extraordinary musical, architectural and spiritual experience. Caution need not inhibit the use of the word unique.

The Divine Office Day. A unique feature of the festival is the complete Divine Office, the eight services of the monastic day, performed at the intended times – which means beginning at 1.00am and ending at about 10.00pm. Even were you to skip the less agreeably timed Offices, you would still be exposed to the oldest living musically-enriched ritual in the world. It is the most spiritually charged and aesthetically intense experience to have emerged from western civilisation has.

The oldest and finest college choirs. Provision for music to accompany the liturgy was stipulated by the founders of the major early colleges at Oxford, and choral church music there is still very much a living tradition. Magdalen, Merton, New College, Christ Church Cathedral and Queen’s College choirs remain the finest in Oxford and enjoy international reputations for excellence.

Acclaimed professional ensembles. Five professional choirs also participate: The Tallis Scholars, the world’s leading performers of Renaissance repertoire; Westminster Cathedral Choir, among the most exalted of liturgical choirs and uniquely experienced in plainsong; Stile Antico, an exciting ensemble which enjoys international acclaim; Contrapunctus, a consort that couples powerful interpretations with path-breaking scholarship; and Aurora Nova, an all-female ensemble made up of some of the finest choral singers in the country. Instruments of Time & Truth, a top-class period instrument ensemble based in Oxford, performs in two concerts. Members are among the leading specialist players in England.

500 years of music, Europe-wide. Much of the music is from the Golden Age of polyphony, the 16th and 17th centuries. The leading English composers are well represented – Tallis, Byrd, Gibbons, Purcell – while the selection is appropriately skewed in favour of those with Oxford associations – Taverner, Sheppard and, from a later age, Sir John Stainer. There is a goodly collection of top rank British 20th-century music, by Howells, Finzi, Britten and others, while Roderick Williams is among the contemporary composers. But there is also plenty of international content. Spanish and Mexican composers of the Golden Age (Guerrero, Victoria, Capillas) feature spectacularly, while Italy is represented by Monteverdi’s Vespers (how better?). There is an enchanting programme of 19th- and 20th-century French compositions by Poulenc, Fauré, Alain, and the Franco-Flemish Renaissance school is not neglected, Orlando Lassus featuring in particular. The festival finishes with Mozart.

The speakers. Three lectures are included, all by leading experts on subjects central to the festival. They are given in the Oxford Union.


The Divine Office day

The central component of this festival is the performance of the complete Divine Office, within the span of a single day and at the appropriate times. No other musical experience could be as sublime and spiritually charged.

The principal features of the Offices are the chanting of psalms with their antiphons, the singing of hymns and canticles, and the chanting of readings from the Bible with sung responsories. The tradition has changed little in nearly 1,500 years, and aspects may go back further: the roots of plainchant (‘Gregorian’ chant) may lie in Jewish or Pharaonic practice.

Though this ‘performance’ of the Divine Office (they are concerts, not services) is basically as authentic a rendering as might have been performed in late-medieval or Renaissance Britain or Europe, there are some departures from liturgical correctness. It does not follow the texts prescribed for a particular day, and we err on the side of musical elaboration beyond what is canonically necessary.The polyphonic passages have been selected from among the finest ever composed, within an overarching Marian theme, though this is hardly limiting.

Ten choirs take part, two of which – The Tallis Scholars and Westminster Cathedral Choir – have opted to participate in all eight Offices. Apart from sleep deprivation there are two challenges facing contemporary choirs wishing to perform the complete Divine Office: vocal stamina and the quantity of plainchant whose singing is a specialist skill not easily mastered. Our solution is to engage two choirs for most of the Hours, one to perform the chant and the other the polyphony, which used to be standard practice in the better endowed cathedrals and colleges.

Were you to attend all eight Hours, you would become one of an elite few among living souls to have done so, so rare is the opportunity now. Even were you to skip the less agreeably timed ones, you would be exposed to what is one of the most potent spiritual and aesthetic experiences available in the world today. Moreover, it could be said, at the risk of divine wrath for extreme hubris, that, musically, this manifestation of the Divine Office will rank as the finest ever performed (along with the three previous editions of this festival), it being unprecedented for so many first-rate choirs to participate. 

As the capacity of the chapels is limited, all but one of the Offices are performed in two chapels simultaneously. Audience members are assigned to a particular stream of the eight Hours to ensure maximum variety of choirs and chapels.

We shall ask that there be no applause at any time during this extraordinary day, and that silence prevails while in the chapels.

The eight Offices of the Hours:
1.00am: Matins
4.00am: Lauds
6.30am (dawn): Prime
9.15am: Terce & Mass
12.00 noon: Sext
3.30pm: None
6.45pm: Vespers
9.15pm: Compline


Meet the Choirs & Musicians

Aurora Nova
Aurora Nova were founded by Patrick Craig in 1996 to perform a concert ofsacred music for women’s voices in London, raising money for charitiessupporting victims of domestic violence and breast cancer. With some ofthe best choral singers in London, their voices make up the top lines of many ofthis country’s finest groups including The Tallis Scholars, the Sixteen, the GabrieliConsort, and the BBC Singers. The following year Aurora Nova was invited tobecome the first all-female professional choir to lead the Sunday services at St Paul’s Cathedral. Since then 18 women have sung on over 60 Sundays at the Cathedral, encompassing a vast array of sacred repertoire.

Christ Church 
Cathedral Choir
Unique in the world as both Cathedral and College choir, the intimate acoustic of its musical home, Oxford’s 12th-century Cathedral, has given it a relationship with early sacred music and the rhythm and vigour of contemporary idioms which is second to none. There are 12 men and 16 boys in the choir, and three organists. The boys are selected for their musical ability and attend Christ Church Cathedral School. Of the men, six are professionals and six are undergraduates. The Cathedral is renowned for training many of the country’s leading organists and the choir is directed by Steven Grahl.

Coupling powerful interpretations with path-breaking scholarship, Contrapunctus presents music by the best known composers as well as unfamiliar masterpieces. The scholarly facet of the group’s work allows audiences to experience the first performances of many works in modern times. Since its foundation in 2010, the group has appeared in many prestigious music festivals including Martin Randall Travel’s Seville: A Festival of Spanish Music. The group is Vocal Consort in Residence at the University of Oxford.

Instruments of Time & Truth
Instruments of Time & Truth is a period-instrument ensemble whose aim is to present world-class performances of Baroque and Classical music in Oxford and the surrounding region. The ensemble is a showcase for the exceptional talents of international period musicians resident in and around Oxford. Many hold Principal positions with established groups such as The Academy of Ancient Music, The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and The English Baroque Soloists.

Magdalen College Choir
Magdalen’s internationally famous choir has changed little since its foundation in 1480, still being composed of 16 boys from Magdalen College School and 12 undergraduates. As well as performing its duties in the college chapel services, it regularly gives concerts and broadcasts and makes recordings. The current Informator Choristarum – Director of Music – is Mark Williams, formerly of Jesus College, Cambridge. As a conductor he has worked with the Britten Sinfonia and the London Mozart Players. He is the Principal Guest Conductor of the City of London Choir.

Merton College Choir
Described by Gramophone as ‘one of the UK’s finest choral ensembles’, Merton College Choir is a mixed-voice choir which came to the fore a few years ago after the generous Reed Rubin benefaction. It has performed recently in the USA, France, Sweden and St Peter’s Rome – from where its Choral Evensong was broadcast on BBC Radio 3. During term-time the choir sings the services in Merton College Chapel, and it has made several recordings. The current Organist and Director of Music is Benjamin Nicholas, an Oxford organ scholar who has worked at, inter alia, St Paul’s Cathedral and Tewkesbury Abbey.

New College Choir
Established in the late 14th century in accordance with William of Wykeham’s statutes for the college, it remains a group of 16 choristers and 14 adult clerks; the latter a mixture of professional singers and undergraduate members of the college. It is now one of the most lauded choral groups in Britain and is well-respected internationally. They perform in concerts in the UK and regularly tour abroad, and have made over 100 recordings. The choir is directed by Robert Quinney who was previously sub-organist at Westminster Abbey and Director of Music at Peterborough Cathedral.

The Queen’s College Choir
The Choir of The Queen’s College, directed by Owen Rees, is among the finest university choirs in the UK. Its repertory includes a rich array of music from the Renaissance to contemporary. During term the choir sings for services in the college’s splendid Baroque chapel. It performs in many parts of the UK and abroad and broadcasts regularly on BBC Radio. It records for the Signum and Avie labels and appears on the Grammy-nominated soundtrack of Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince.

Stile Antico
Stile Antico is an ensemble of young British singers who are now established as one of the most original and exciting voices in the field. The group performs regularly throughout Europe and North America and its recordings have received major awards including the Diapason d’Or de l’Année. Working without a conductor, they rehearse and perform as chamber musicians, each contributing to the musical result. Their performances have repeatedly been praised for their vitality, expressiveness and imaginative response to the text.

The Tallis Scholars
The Tallis Scholars were founded in 1973 by Peter Phillips. Through their recordings and concerts they have established themselves as the world’s leading exponents of Renaissance sacred music. Peter Phillips has worked with the ensemble to create, through good tuning and blend, the purity and clarity of sound which he feels best serves the repertoire from the late 15th to the early 17th centuries. They have performed in sacred and secular venues on six continents (plans are afoot for the seventh), and give around 70 concerts each year. Gimell Records was set up in 1980 solely to record the group, and their recordings have attracted many awards throughout the world.

Westminster Cathedral Choir
Westminster Cathedral Choir was founded in 1903, and has since gained a reputation as one of the foremost choirs in Britain, and indeed the world. The choir has a history of commissioning new works by such composers as Britten, Vaughan Williams and Tavener. As well as touring in the UK and abroad, featuring on radio and television and making many recordings, it is the only Catholic cathedral choir in the world to sing daily Mass and Vespers. Martin Baker was appointed as Master of Music in 2000 after organ and choral posts at Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral, London.

Rowan Pierce
Yorkshire-born Rowan Pierce is a Samling Artist who has performed at the BBC Proms, Wigmore Hall,  Sage Gateshead, Cheltenham, Ludlow, Bath and Ryedale Festivals with ensembles including the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Academy of Ancient Music, Florilegium, and BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. Opera roles include Galatea in Acis & Galatea with the Academy of Ancient Music and Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro. Recent and future performances include The Fairy Queen with both the Academy of Ancient Music and the Gabrieli Consort, Bach’s B minor Mass with the City of London Sinfonia, and Papagena in The Magic Flute for English National Opera where she is a Harewood Artist.



Oxford is one of the world’s great historic cities: a dense accumulation of buildings in every style from the 12th to the 21st centuries. Architectural greatness is embedded in a web of picturesque streets and alleys and dappled with lawns, veteran trees and riverside meadows.

The city is also a uniquely apposite location for a celebration of church music – especially for a recreation of the monastic hours. Reflecting their quasi-monastic origins, many colleges are equipped with cloistral layouts and magnificent chapels. All the selected chapels are architecturally remarkable, and all have a strong musical tradition. The audience sit alongside or opposite the choir, giving rise to rare proximity and sense of collegiality.

At Christ Church, liturgical singing has an almost unbroken tradition for well over 800 years. Thomas Wolsey intended the college to outshine all its predecessors when he founded it in 1525, and it has the largest quad and the most capacious chapel – which doubles as a cathedral. Wolsey established 16 choristers and chose John Taverner, greatest of early Tudor composers, as Informator Choristarum.

There are earlier foundations, but by the generosity of its endowment and by the prescriptions of its 1264 statutes, Merton qualifies as the first fully-fledged college in either Oxford or Cambridge. The chapel is also Oxford’s earliest, and many hold it to be the most beautiful. From the outset, there was provision for vocal music to accompany the liturgy. 

The ambitions and endowment of Magdalen exceeded those of all previous foundations when established by Bishop Waynflete in 1458. Reformation iconoclasm was made good by 19th-century restorations and the glorious chapel is little changed since it was built in 1474–80. Waynflete made provision for eight clerks, four chaplains, 16 choristers and an Informator Choristarum. John Sheppard was among the many distinguished holders of this post (1543–48).

New College enjoyed unprecedented munificence when founded by William of Wykeham in 1379, and its chapel is the biggest of the medieval new-builds in Oxford. The college was the first
to be planned around a large quadrangle, and the first in which there were lodgings for undergraduates as well as for fellows. From the outset there was provision for ten chaplains, three clerks and 16 choristers.

Though founded in 1340, no trace of the medieval buildings of The Queen’s College survive as it was entirely rebuilt in the decades around 1700. The result is a pleasing version of English Baroque with a screen to the High Street which is the finest stretch of Classicism in Oxford. The chapel is marked by its restrained beauty and excellent acoustics. 

St John the Evangelist on Iffley Road was built for an Anglican religious community known as the Cowley Fathers. A beautiful late Victorian design by G.F. Bodley, it has been well adapted for use as a concert hall.

University College Chapel was begun in 1639 but was not completed until 1666, building having been interrupted by the civil wars and interregnum. Fittings from that time include the painted windows and the antechapel screen. Its founder, William of Durham, died in 1249, so the college is entitled to claim to be the oldest in any English university. 

Day 1: Monday 28 September

Getting to Oxford

There are regular direct trains from London, Southampton, Manchester, York and various other places, and there are frequent coach services from London.

Festival staff will be at the railway station between 12.00 noon and 2.15pm on 28th September to despatch you in taxis, for which there will be no charge on this day.

Arriving by car: all Oxford authorities discourage the use of cars. There are no public car parks in Oxford in which you can park for longer than 72 hours. This may change and we will inform participants if so. Parking is available at some hotels, but not at the colleges.

The festival begins at 2.45pm at the Oxford Union with a lecture by Professor Stephen Darlington.

Concert, 4.00pm on Monday or 3.00pm on Tuesday:
Merton College Chapel
Merton College Choir
Benjamin Nicholas director

A survey of British choral music inspired by the Anglican liturgy, this concert includes works for choir and organ (Walton’s Jubilate, Finzi’s Lo, the full final sacrifice, and Howells’s Te Deum for King’s College, Cambridge) showcasing Merton’s splendid new instrument. The programme also features Purcell’s festal setting of the coronation anthem I was glad, and two 20th-century works exploiting double-choir sonorities: Harris’s Bring us, O Lord God and Tavener’s Hymn to the Mother of God.

Concert, 7.15pm or 9.15pm:
Christ Church Cathedral
The Tallis Scholars
Peter Phillips director

The sacred music of Golden-Age Spain inspired that of the great cathedrals of the Spanish New World. This concert juxtaposes works from the Old World and the New, with music by Francisco Guerrero (including his Easter motet Maria Magdalene) and Tomás Luis de Victoria (including his double-choir Ave Maria), and by the two most important 17th-century composers working at the Cathedrals of Puebla and Mexico City: Juan Gutierrez de Padilla and Francisco López Capillas.

Dinner is provided, either before or after the evening performance (depending on the time you attend). 

Day 2: 
Tuesday 29 September

In the morning, Peter Philips gives a lecture in the Oxford Union.

Free time and optional walks.

Concert, 4.00pm on Monday or 3.00pm on Tuesday:
Magdalen College Chapel
Magdalen College Choir
Mark Williams director

This programme surveys 400 years of the Anglican musical tradition, ranging from the dawn of the Reformation (Tallis’s If ye love me) via the Elizabethan and Jacobean ages (works by Byrd, Gibbons, and Tomkins) and the Restoration (Purcell’s Hear my prayer) to the 18th century (Boyce’s The sorrows of our heart), and providing a taste of the rich variety of responses to sacred texts by English composers of the 20th and 21st centuries (including Britten, Howells, and Tavener).

Concert, 6.00pm:
New College Chapel
New College Choir
Robert Quinney director

Programme to be announced.

Divided audience. Participants will be divided into two audiences for those concerts (12 of the 17) in venues that are too small to accommodate everyone.

Dinner in New College Great Hall.

Concert, 9.00pm:
New College Chapel
Aurora Nova
Patrick Craig director

An imaginative programme of music for upper voices by French composers active between the late 19th century and the middle of the 20th century. Several items – including settings of Ave Maria and Salve Regina – are drawn from Francis Poulenc’s opera Dialogues des Carmélites, and the largest-scale work is Poulenc’s Litanies à la Vierge Noire. Movements from Mass settings by Gabriel Fauré, Guy Ropartz, and Jean Langlais are interspersed with Eucharistic motets by Poulenc, Vincent d’Indy, André Caplet, and Jehan Alain.

Day 3: 
Wednesday 30 September

Lecture at the Oxford Union with Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch. 

Concert, 11.15am or 4.00pm:
Christ Church Cathedral
Christ Church Cathedral Choir
Steven Grahl director

Framing the concert are two pieces by John Taverner, the first Master of the Choristers at Cardinal College, Oxford (subsequently refounded at Christ Church). The survival of the Latin motet in Protestant England during the later 16th and 17th centuries is explored through music by William Byrd and Henry Purcell, while the centrepiece of the programme is the exuberant setting of the Magnifcat by Giles Swayne, a work commissioned by Christ Church in 1982 and which draws upon African song.

Free time and optional walks.

Concert, 11.15am or 4.00pm:
The Queen’s College Chapel
Stile Antico

The concert presents music associated with three of the most powerful female rulers of the 16th century: Margaret of Austria, and Mary I and Elizabeth I of England. Margaret was patron to such Habsburg musicians as Pierre de la Rue, composer of a moving setting of King David’s lament Absalon fili mi. The programme includes works by senior composers of Queen Mary’s chapel, Tallis and Sheppard, and madrigals from The Triumphs of Oriana, published towards the end of Elizabeth’s reign.

Concert, 6.30pm:
University Church of St Mary Contrapunctus
The Choir of Queen’s College
Instruments of Time & Truth
Owen Rees director

Monteverdi’s lavish Vespers, written in Mantua and published in 1610 with an eye on both the Roman and Venetian markets, has become one of the most famous collections of liturgical music. It contains an extraordinary kaleidoscope of styles (traditional and modern) and textures (solo, choral, and instrumental). For this performance the solo voices of early-music consort Contrapunctus are joined by the Choir of The Queen’s College and Oxford’s period-instrument orchestra, Instruments of Time & Truth.

Dinner this evening is independent.

Day 4: 
Thursday 1 October

Divine Office Day

Matins, 1.00am

Merton College Chapel 
Merton College Choir polyphony
Westminster Cathedral Choir men chant
Christ Church Cathedral
The Tallis Scholars polyphony
Aurora Nova chant

The liturgical day starts with the Night Office, potentially the longest of the Canonical Hours, though we are limiting it to 60 minutes. Musically it is also one of the most important of the Offices, including some of the most ancient chants and finishing with a Te Deum.

Lauds, 4.00am

Christ Church Cathedral
The Tallis Scholars polyphony
Aurora Nova chant
Merton College Chapel
Stile Antico polyphony
Westminster Cathedral Choir men chant

Also called Morning Prayer, Lauds, which in high summer might be at daybreak, is musically also one of the three most important Offices. It includes the canticle Beata es Maria.

Prime, 6.30am

The Queen’s College Chapel
The Queen’s College Choir polyphony
Westminster Cathedral Choir men chant
University College Chapel
The Tallis Scholars polyphony
Aurora Nova chant

A short service is the first of the ‘Little Hours’, timed so that the congregations enter the chapels before dawn and leave in daylight – and therefore we have chosen chapels with outstanding stained glass.

Terce & Mass, 9.15am

New College Chapel
The Tallis Scholars polyphony
Westminster Cathedral Choir men chant

The second of the ‘Little Hours’ is followed immediately by Morning Mass, the principal service of the Catholic Church. New College Chapel has the capacity to accommodate the whole audience.

Sext, 12.00 noon

Merton College Chapel
The Tallis Scholars polyphony
Aurora Nova chant
Magdalen College Chapel
Magdalen College Choir polyphony

Westminster Cathedral Choir men chant

The third of the ‘Little Hours’ is at the hour which is the sixth, according to the system by which twelve hours are counted from dawn to sundown.

Optional walks and library visit.

None, 3.30pm

Christ Church Cathedral
Christ Church Cathedral Choir polyphony Westminster Cathedral Choir men chant
University College Chapel
The Tallis Scholars polyphony
Aurora Nova chant

The last of the ‘Little Hours’, with a duration of about half an hour.

Optional walks and library visit.

Vespers, 6.45pm

Magdalen College Chapel
The Tallis Scholars polyphony
Aurora Nova chant
The Queen’s College Chapel
Westminster Cathedral Choir (men and boys) polyphony and chant

Vespers is musically the most significant of the Offices, being the first to admit polyphony and progressing to become
the arena for some of the greatest music ever written. The Magnificat is the principal canticle.

Supper follows in either The Divinity School or Trinity College Hall.

Compline, 9.15pm

University College Chapel
Stile Antico polyphony
Westminster Cathedral Choir men chant
Christ Church Cathedral
The Tallis Scholars polyphony
Aurora Nova chant

The last Office of the day features the singing of the votive antiphon of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Day 5: 
Friday 2 October

Concert, 11.00am:
St John the Evangelist

Merton College Choir
Rowan Pierce soprano
Instruments of Time & Truth
Benjamin Nicholas director

This concert evokes the musical drama and splendour with which Vespers was celebrated in late 18th-century Salzburg, where Mozart worked in the early part of his career. Mozart’s skills as an operatic composer are apparent in the dramatic treatment of the psalm texts of the Solemn Vespers de confessore, and even more so in the virtuosic solo motet Exsultate, Jubilate, sung here by award-winning soprano Rowan Pierce, which ends with the famous exuberant Alleluia.

Immediately after the concert, coaches will be available to take you to the railway and coach stations.

Dr Stephen Darlington MBE

Dr Stephen Darlington is one of the country’s leading choral conductors. From 1985 to 2018 he was Director of Music at Christ Church, Oxford, establishing it as an acknowledged centre of academic musical excellence, and maintained the highest choral traditions of the Church of England in the Cathedral. An extensive discography, comprising over fifty CDs, includes several award-winning recordings. He was awarded an MBE in 2019.
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Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch

Three books by Oxford’s Professor of the History of the Church have won major prizes: Thomas Cranmer: A Life, Reformation: Europe’s House Divided 1490–1700 and A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, which was also an acclaimed six-part television series. He was knighted in 2012.

Accommodation and prices

Accommodation for four nights is included. We have selected five hotels and two colleges for you to choose from. 

The choice of hotel or college is the main determinant of variations in the price. All prices are per person.

Rooms vary. As is inevitable in historic buildings, which these mostly are, rooms vary in size and outlook.

Quiet? Those staying in hotels may be affected by some traffic noise. Accommodation in the colleges is quieter.

Suites. Some hotels have suites and deluxe rooms. All are subject to availability at the time of booking.

There may be rooms available for the night of Sunday 27 September in hotels. Please contact us if you would like to book a room for this night. However, it is often the case that you will find a better rate for extra nights by booking directly with the hotel rather than through us. Please note that there are no rooms available at Magdalen College on Sunday 27 September and very limited availability at Pembroke College


Magdalen College

These are student rooms, so most are for single occupancy and all are fairly basic and institutional. On the other hand, they have to be smart and comfortable enough to be let during vacations for conferences and events (an essential source of revenue), and all have en-suite bathrooms (with showers, not baths). Some rooms are fairly large. All were refurbished in 2016.

Whatever may be sacrificed in comfort is gained in historic and scenic setting within the cloistered confines of ancient colleges. At Magdalen rooms overlook the Deer Park. (Note there is no access to indoor common areas except the hall and chapel for breakfasts, dinners and concerts.)

Adjacent rooms could be reserved for couples where that is possible.

Single occupancy
Single room £2,240


Pembroke College

The rooms are in a handsome new development, opened in 2013, which is built around a clutch of small quads and terraces. The bedrooms and their en-suite bathrooms (showers, not baths) are compact and sparse: this is student accommodation, and the college is not a hotel (which also means there are no receptionists as such). Rooms are for single occupancy. There is a café on site which is open during the day but there is no lounge or communal space. Stone steps are a feature.

Architecturally this is a pleasing environment, and antiquity is amply supplied by the need to pass through two quads in order to reach the street, and by the hall where breakfast is served, which is modified medieval. Pembroke is opposite the Tom Gate entrance to Christ Church College.

Single occupancy
Single room £2,240


Eastgate Hotel, 4-star

Built on the site of a former coaching inn, the Eastgate – a Mercure hotel – is excellently located for many of the concerts. Bedrooms have little character but are comfortable with all mod cons. Public rooms are agreeable.

Its location in narrow Merton Street makes it one of the quietest of our selection of hotels though some rooms overlook the High Street.

There is a car park which costs c. £25 per night; there is no need to pre-book.

Two sharing
Standard room £2,430

Single occupancy
Double for sole use £2,690


Vanbrugh House Hotel, 4-star

A former post office, the Vanbrugh House Hotel is based in two 18th-century houses on a quiet side street in central Oxford. Due to the historic nature of the building, bedrooms vary in size and outlook. It has been tastefully decorated in neutral colours throughout and has a pleasant, though small, lounge. The hotel will be used exclusively by Divine Office participants.

The hotel no longer serves breakfast in-house, instead it is served next door at Bill’s Restaurant.

There is no parking available at this hotel.

Two sharing
Standard room £2,580
Suite £2,770

Single occupancy
Double for sole use £2,980


Old Parsonage Hotel, 5-star

This is a very attractive hotel. Its core is a lovely 17th-century rectory and the public areas in this part are delightful – colourful, comfortable and idiosyncratic. A remarkable collection of 20th-century paintings covers the walls. The restaurant is good. After all this charm and warmth, the bedrooms in the new block to the rear are disappointingly ordinary, though they are equipped with all the usual mod cons. The hotel has recently been entirely refurbished.

Due to its situation on the edge of central Oxford, transport by private coach will be arranged for some of the concerts, but many journeys will be on foot and could be up to 30 minutes. Taxis are easily obtained.

There is very limited parking – spaces cannot be guaranteed.

Two sharing
Standard room £2,830
Superior room £2,940
Suite £3,110

Single occupancy
Double for sole use £3,200


Old Bank Hotel, 5-star

Housed in a former bank built in the 19th century, this boutique hotel is comfortable and stylish; service is excellent. Public spaces include a library and an Italianate courtyard garden. Rooms have modern décor and many have views of spires and rooftops. Rooms at the front of the hotel look out over the busy High Street though noise-proof glazing is effective. Venues are within 10 or 12 minutes on foot.

Free parking is available and there is no need to pre-book.

Two sharing
Standard room £2,980
Superior room £3,140

Single occupancy
Double for sole use £3,350


Randolph Hotel, 5-star

The most famous hotel in Oxford, the venerable Randolph is housed in an austere Gothic Revival building in Beaumont Street. The bedrooms, of which there are several categories, are well decorated in a fairly traditional way and are very comfortable. Public rooms include a ‘Morse’ bar, a bright and airy lounge and a fine restaurant. Run by the Macdonald hotel group, service is more comparable to that of a 4-star hotel. Rooms with a street view may hear some traffic noise.

Most venues are 15–20 minutes away on foot.

Parking costs c. £32 per night and must be pre-booked with the concierge.

Two sharing
Standard room £2,980
Superior room £3,140
Suite £3,470

Single occupancy
Double for sole use £3,420



All 17 performances including the eight offices of the Divine Office.

Three talks by leading academics.

Accommodation for four nights, in hotels or in college rooms.

Breakfasts and three dinners (wine is included).

Coach transfers for some of the events, for those staying at the Old Parsonage Hotel, and on the final day to link with public transport options.

All tips, taxes and admission charges.

The assistance of an experienced team of festival staff.

A detailed programme booklet.



Three dinners are provided, two of which are in college halls. The food provided in college halls is of high quality and such as one might expect of a good restaurant. It is of a standard provided for high table on special occasions and not for students. 

More about the concerts

Private. All the performances are planned and administered by us, and the audience consists exclusively of those who have taken the festival package. Tickets for some concerts may be put on sale from August 2020, if any spare places remain.

Secular. All performances are concerts rather than religious services.

Duration. Most are a little less than an hour. Matins may be 80 minutes, while four of the Offices are about half an hour. None of the concerts has an interval.

Seating. Specific seats are not reserved. You sit where you want. Most seating is in stalls or pews.

You don’t have to attend them all!
17 concerts is a lot to absorb in five days. To conserve energy it might be wise to omit one or two.

Audience size. There will be up to 220 participants on the festival.

Changes. Musicians fall ill, venues may close for repairs: there are many circumstances which could necessitate changes to the programme. We ask you to be understanding should they occur.

Optional Extras

The Chant Course: Learn to sing plainsong

Plainchant – also called plainsong, Gregorian chant or simply chant – is probably the oldest musical form in the world. Its roots reach deep into the pre-Christian world, and it is still a living tradition in monasteries and churches around the world (and occasionally in concert halls). In this festival, chant will play a leading role in the recreation of the Divine Office.

We are offering the opportunity to learn to sing chant in three sessions on successive days, the first at 11.30am on 28th September. There may be the possibility on the fourth day of participating in Vespers or Sext alongside Aurora Nova and the Tallis Scholars.

The tutor is counter-tenor Patrick Craig, Vicar Choral at St Paul’s Cathedral, member of leading consorts (he sang more than 1,000 concerts with The
Tallis Scholars), founder of Aurora Nova and tutor at many summer schools and courses.

Anyone who books The Divine Office is welcome to apply for this course, though we will have to be selective. Please provide brief details of your choral experience with your application. We should point out that though participation does not require you to miss any of the concerts, you would have little opportunity to join any of the optional walks and visits.

Price: £160 per person 

To apply, please e-mail:

Please provide brief details of your choral experience in your application. Spaces are limited to 10-22 participants. 

Chapel and library walks

Visits to chapels and libraries with an architectural historian are offered as optional extras, providing the opportunity to learn about buildings in which you will be spending quite a lot of time.

The lecturers are John McNeill and Dr Cathy Oakes, both historians of medieval architecture and residents of Oxford.

Details available in Spring 2020.

Fitness for the festival

There is a lot of walking involved in this festival, and some halls are reached via flights of stairs. You will need to be able to walk unaided for up to 30 minutes, the time it will take slow walkers to get to the furthest event (though most walks are shorter). Festival staff will not have the resources to assist individuals. Traffic restrictions and congestion render coach transport impractical. 

We ask that you take the fitness tests opposite before booking.

If you have a medical condition or a disability which may affect your holiday or necessitate special arrangements being made for you, please discuss these with us before booking – or, if the condition develops or changes subsequently, as soon as possible before departure. 

Are you fit enough to join the tour?


Pre-festival tour

Walking a Royal River, 21–27 September 2020.

Map for the Divine Office.

'I considered the Divine Office an incomparable musical experience that exceeded all expectations. Bravo everyone!'

'I doubt I will ever again have such an educational and aesthetic experience. To say 'I was there'; at the Divine Office is something I shall treasure.'

'It was an honour to be part of an audience in such auspicious surroundings. We were essentially provided with a divine and memorable week and a sense of individual achievement. Thank you so much.'

'What a wondrous week of outstanding groups and singing. Never to be forgotten.'

'Just to say how much I enjoyed my time in Oxford and being a part of the Divine Office. It really was a remarkable night and day - the music just sublime, it was educational, atmospheric in the extreme, very moving, and a beautiful thing all round.'

'A truly wonderful and unforgettable experience. A great privilege to have been a part of it.'

'A week of memorable music in timeless venues.'

'Compliments on the quality of your festival. It was wonderful - program, planning, information and, particularly staff were all outstanding. It would be impossible to experience such a wonderful programme except with Martin Randall Travel.'

'MRT created a profound spriritual and aesthetic experience, and your attention to our every requirement ensured that we were able to enjoy the experience to the full without worries over practicalities.'

'The combination of an interesting and inspired musicians all brought together in such beautiful settings makes for a very special experience The festival really provided so many special moments that I will carry with me for years to come.'