Blackfriars, Oxford. The name Blackfriars is commonly used to denote a house of the Dominican Friars in England. Blackfriars in Oxford houses three distinct institutions: the Priory of the Holy Spirit, the religious house of the friars, whose current prior is John O'Connor OP; Blackfriars Studium, the centre of studies of the English Province of the Dominican Friars (although it numbers members of other orders and lay people among its students and lecturers); and Blackfriars Hall, one of the constituent educational institutions of the University of Oxford. Blackfriars Hall is not a college but a Permanent Private Hall, meaning that it is owned and governed by an outside institution (in this case, the English Province of the Order of Preachers) and not by its fellows as a college is. Located in St Giles', Blackfriars Hall is a centre for the study of Roman Catholic theology, and admits men and women of any faith.
Despite the fact that many of the dates and figures of Oxford's medieval and early life are imprecise, Blackfriars' history is unusually well documented, largely as a result of the hall being part of an international fraternity of scholarship, which was able to monitor and document its fortunes, even during times of the hall's collapse.
The Dominicans arrived in Oxford on 15 August 1221, at the instruction of Saint Dominic himself, little more than a week after the friar's death. As such, the hall has some claim to be heir to the oldest tradition of teaching in Oxford, a tradition that precedes both the aularian houses that would characterise the next century and the collegiate houses that would characterise the rest of the University's history.
Like all the monastic houses in Oxford, Blackfriars came into rapid and repeated conflict with the University authorities, as the friars claimed all the rights and privileges of University membership but also claimed immunity from the University discipline or regulation. Relations with townspeople were also consistently difficult, but the reasons for this are difficult to assess dispassionately, as virtually all contemporary accounts are marked with deep bias on one side or the other.
With the Reformation, all monastic houses, including Blackfriars, were suppressed. The Dominicans did not return to Oxford for some 400 years, until 1921 when Blackfriars was refounded as a religious house, within 600 metres of the original site.
The Dominican Studium at Blackfriars had a close relationship with the University, culminating in the establishment of Blackfriars as a permanent private hall in 1994.
Blackfriars Hall is the home of the Las Casas Institute on ethics, governance and social justice. Launched in November 2008, the Institute combines scholarship with major speakers and an extensive community engagement programme, and so contributes to the Hall's founding vision to be a centre of the social as well as the sacred sciences.
Blackfriars is also the home of the International Young Leaders Network, which exists to identify and nurture young and emerging leaders aged 18 to 33 from the Christian community globally. IYLN is a joint project of Blackfriars Hall, The Epiphany Trust and St Edmund's College, Cambridge University.
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