Campion Hall – What’s In a Name

Campion Hall University of Oxford is named after Edmund Campion, the Jesuit priest who worked underground in Elizabethan England caring spiritually for his persecuted fellow Catholics. Queen Elizabeth’s royal father, Henry VIII, had broken with the Catholic Church when the Pope refused to permit him to divorce his wife, his brother’s widow, in order to marry a second wife in the hope that she would be more successful in producing a male heir to succeed him. To legitimate his divorce, Henry had the English Parliament proclaim him supreme head of the Church in England (Oath of Royal Supremacy, 1534), and as such he proceeded to introduce changes in the church’s beliefs and practices along the lines of the Reformation which the theologian, Martin Luther, had begun to introduce into the Church in Germany.

A religious seesaw

Unhappily, none of Henry’s subsequent wives produced a healthy male heir, and he was survived by only a sickly son who died at the age of sixteen, leaving him with two daughters, Princess Mary, born of the original queen Catherine of Aragon, and the younger Princess Elizabeth, born of his second wife, Anne Bolyn, who supplanted Catherine.

In the process of reforming the beliefs and worship of the national church of which he, not the Pope, was now considered supreme head under God, the King took steps to outlaw and punish any of his subjects who persisted in maintaining the old Catholic religion, even to executing some of them for their allegedly traitorous behaviour.

When Henry died in 1547, his young son survived him as King Edward VI for only six years. He was followed by Queen Mary, who had during her father's reign privately preserved her Catholic faith and practices, and who on taking the throne proceeded strenuously to reverse the English Reformation and to restore the old faith and the union with the papacy. She, however, died after only five more years, and her reign was followed by that of her younger half-sister, Elizabeth, who initiated the illustrious Elizabethan Age, and substantially restored and pursued her father's reform of the Church of England as its supreme head, including a repressive and punitive policy towards her recalcitrant Catholic subjects. One of these was Edmund Campion, who was executed in 1581 at Tyburn on being found guilty of the charge of treason against the queen.

A change of direction

Campion was born the gifted son of a bookseller near St Paul’s in London in 1540, the year in which Ignatius of Loyola founded the Jesuit Order which Campion would eventually join. After his early education at Christ’s Hospital School he was received into St Johns College Oxford by its founder, and duly took the required Oath of Supremacy, with the prospect of future priestly ordination in the new Church of England. As a Fellow of St John's, he graduated Master of Arts in 1564 and became an influential lecturer in rhetoric until he was to leave Oxford in 1570. He also studied theology for some five years and was ordained deacon, apparently not without personal theological misgivings. The height of his incipient university career was no doubt the occasion in 1566 when he was chosen to welcome the Queen to the College and also conduct an impressive Latin disputation, which led Her Majesty to promise Master Campion her patronage, an honour and a distinction which seemed fair to ensure for him a favoured academic and political future. However, Campion became preoccupied with personal religious questioning and left Oxford in 1570, having decided to become a Catholic. Pursuing his religious studies at the English College recently established in the University of Douai in France for English Catholics fleeing persecution, he determined there to join the recently founded and intellectually challenging Jesuit Order, and walked to Rome to seek admission to its ranks. He then continued with supplementary Jesuit studies in Prague and Brunn, being ordained a Catholic priest, and then being appointed professor of rhetoric and philosophy in the Jesuit college in Prague.

Mission thwarted

In 1580 the Jesuit Superior General decided with some hesitation to send some of his men to England to support the surviving Catholics and promote the Catholic cause there; and a reluctant Campion arrived disguised as a jewel merchant from Dublin, under the direction of his fellow Jesuit, Robert Persons, who, before himself becoming a Catholic and a Jesuit, had been the Bursar of Balliol College, Oxford.

The missionary team was betrayed both before and after its arrival in England, where, in expectation of being soon apprehended, Campion composed a defiant proclamation of their exclusively religious aims in a statement which he intended to be delivered to Elizabeth’s Privy Council in the event of the Jesuits’ arrest and interrogation. The proclamation was produced at Stonor Park near Henley, the house of the prominent Catholic Camoys family which became a refuge and base for the Jesuit missionaries, as well as the seat of their clandestine printing press; and it was immediately leaked prematurely, becoming publicly and disparagingly known as Campion's Brag (Boast). This was followed by Campion's further publication, addressed now to the University, of his "Ten Reasons" (Decem Rationes) for rejecting the Anglican Church. Four hundred copies of this treasonable publication were printed at Stonor and discreetly laid out on the benches of the University church of St Mary the Virgin, to the astonishment of its arriving worshippers, with the consequence that the government campaign to discover and destroy these turbulent Jesuit priests became even more determined and aggressive. As the now notorious Campion, “the seditious Jesuit”, moved discreetly among the country houses conveniently owned by Catholic recusants, his betrayal and arrest after about a year’s missionary activity was the almost inevitable result of his preaching regularly and indiscriminately to groups of Catholics. Lengthy imprisonment in the Tower of London and regular questioning and torture, and exhausting disputations, led to his being found guilty of high treason against the queen, and sentenced to be brutally executed for his crime. This duly followed at Tyburn Tree, now Marble Arch in London, on 1st December, 1581, an event which led four hundred years later to Campion’s being solemnly proclaimed in Rome by Pope Paul VI a saint of the Catholic Church, one of the Forty English and Welsh Martyrs of that period.

Catholics not wanted

As it happened, and perhaps not unconnected with Campion, that same year 1581 saw it decreed that henceforth all Oxford undergraduates must subscribe to the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England. This requirement, which obviously excluded Catholics and nonconformists from matriculating at the University, was eventually removed in 1871 by Gladstone’s Universities Tests Act, his earlier 1829 Catholic Emancipation Act having rendered Catholicism publicly less unacceptable. But the Catholic bishops of England then followed the Vatican in prohibiting their subjects from attending Oxford, for fear they would be religiously endangered by contact with what was considered a Protestant and heretical University. The episcopal prohibition was relaxed by the Vatican in 1895, and the opportunity was immediately seized upon by the Ampleforth Benedictines and the English Jesuits to open houses of study in Oxford. This would enable their respective young members to gain prestigious Oxford degrees (which were often held by their religious superiors who had later converted), and to staff their schools in Britain and their mission territories overseas. (The Dominicans, having no schools, established Blackfriars Hall later, in 1929.) Thus in 1896, with the permission of the local Catholic hierarchy and the approval of the University, one Fr Richard Clarke SJ, MA (Oxon), a Fellow of St John’s, and later of Trinity (and a victorious 1859 Rowing Blue, as shown by his oar still on display in Campion’s lecture room), exercised his right as an Oxford Master to set up his private hall in the university, in property leased in St Giles from St John’s College, near the Jesuit St Aloysius’ parish Church; and to matriculate, teach and present Catholic undergraduates for Oxford degrees. Oxford Private Halls were initially called after their Master, so what is now known as Campion Hall was first named Clarke's Hall, then Pope's Hall after his successor, Thomas O'Fallon Pope, and so on. In 1918 the then Plater's Hall was granted University status as a Permanent Private Hall (PPH). As such, it was formally renamed Campion Hall by the University, on the application of the Jesuit Order, and was empowered to take occasional non Jesuit as well as Jesuit undergraduate students. 

Subsequent early Masters of the Hall were Fr Henry Keane and Fr Ernest G. Vignaux; until on the death of the latter in 1933, Fr Martin C. D’Arcy became the Hall’s Master for twelve years until 1945, when he was appointed Provincial Superior of the British Jesuits. On his appointment as Master, Fr D’Arcy soon became the celebrity he remained for most of his life, and after his death in 1976 Campion Hall established in his honour the annual Martin D'Arcy Memorial Lectures, which are usually delivered by a fellow Jesuit. 

As the new Master, D'Arcy inherited plans to rebuild Campion Hall in St Giles’ on the impending expiry of its current lease from St John’s College, but he found the proposals displeasing to his taste. He favoured instead purchasing in 1935 Micklem Hall in Brewer Street, a former University boarding house for undergraduates, with part of it dating from the sixteenth century. Moreover, and highly significantly, through a mutual friend D'Arcy arranged for the internationally celebrated architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens, to design the new university hall for him there. 

The new Campion Hall opened in 1936, winning many tributes for the way Lutyens had made such impressive use of the rather cramped site and incorporated, at the request of the Oxford Preservation Trust, part of the former Micklem Hall and its original garden and fountain. Lutyens' full design for the Hall remained incomplete until 1958, when a west wing was built to accommodate more Jesuit students. 

A new focus

The role and focus of Campion Hall in Oxford University have shifted over the years. From being established over a century ago by the Jesuit order to qualify its younger British members to teach in its then more than fifteen schools, it has become more an international centre, enabling a selection of Jesuit postgraduate students from all over the world, with a few other male graduate students, to undertake research and doctorate studies, as commended in the recent University Report; and its alumni are now spreading throughout all five continents to occupy senior academic positions and to put into effect, as far as is given them, the Hall’s motto of "Saying the truth in love" (veritatem fa-cientes in caritate, Eph 4:15). Whatever expression it takes, however, Campion Hall remains an academic religious community devoted to scholarship and integrity imbued with Christian faith, as indeed was its chosen patron. 

The coat of arms granted to Campion Hall, commemorates the martyrdom of the Jesuit Saint Edmund Campion, by depicting a cross flanked with two campion flowers and with a wolf's head at its centre, this being a heraldic symbol of the Loyola family (lobo = wolf), of which a distinguished member, Iñigo, founded the Jesuit Order. Above are two crossed palm branches of victory on a gold crown of triumph, illustrating the Christian belief in the significance of dying for one's faith.