Seventh-century princess and abbess, Saint Frideswide is now known as the patron saint of Oxford. Running from King Algar of Mercia who sought to marry her, she ended up in Oxford and left a few legendary marks across the city, one such place being Saint Margaret’s Well.
A church dedicated to her was constructed in the neighborhood of Osney Island in the late Victorian era, designed by Gothic Revival architect Samuel Sanders Teulon. Although the church itself is beautifully constructed, its most extraordinary feature can be found inside: in its nave is a wooden door known as the “Alice Door.” The carving does not show anything concerning Alice in Wonderland, even though the story famously originated in Oxford. Instead, the legend of Saint Frideswide arriving in Oxford is depicted.
Why is it called the “Alice Door,” then? It’s because the door’s relief was designed and carved by none other than Alice Liddell, after whom the fictional character of Alice was based. While she is widely remembered for her legacy in literature, the real-life Alice’s life was even stranger than fiction.
For one thing, she was the daughter of Henry Liddell, the then-dean of Christ Church College and co-author of the Greek-English Lexicon (which remains a standard in the field to this day). For another, she allegedly had a brief romance with Prince Leopold, son of Queen Victoria, with whom she remained a close friend until his death and after whom she named one of her sons. She also took a great interest in art and had John Ruskin, a contemporary art critic, tutor her.
Regrettably, she didn’t pursue it professionally and very few of her works have survived today. This beautifully sculpted door, along with the Lyndhurst War Memorial, is one of such few testaments of her under-appreciated artistry.
Know Before You Go
St Frideswide's Church is open for visitors during the week. During the winter season, The church is open from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Monday, from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday, and 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.