THE last time Oxford’s St Michael at the Northgate Church had a major refurbishment, it was in the wake of a devastating fire.
But parishioners are now celebrating as a £120,000 revamp at the church has propelled it into the 21st century.
The church in Cornmarket Street now boasts new lighting, paintwork and a state-of-the-art sound system.
It is the first major restoration work at the church, which attracts 12,000 visitors a year, for decades.
The Very Rev Bob Wilkes, the city rector, said: “We are delighted. I hesitate to use the phrase ‘shades of grey’ at the moment but that is what our walls were.
“People coming in through the doors keep saying we’ve made the church bigger.
“We are the city church, offering services for Oxford’s residents every day, so it was important to update it like this.”
The church’s original Saxon Tower is believed to be the oldest building in the city and was originally situated just within the North Gate of Oxford, protected by the city wall.
The church is Grade I listed and was previously restored in the 19th century and again after a devastating fire in October 1953.
During the fire, dozens of residents and students joined the city rector, forming a human chain to rescue church treasures.
They carried out valuables using ladders and whatever they could find.
The most recent restoration was to the tower – which dates from around 1050 – in 1986.
Mr Wilkes said: “We want the church to be at its best for the thousands of people who come here each year.”
The new interior in the church includes purpose-made chandeliers, discreetly positioned spot-lights and lights that point upward to illuminate the chancel roof.
It was funded by parishioner donations and the church’s trust fund.
It is now hoped the revamp will help tourist trade, which had seen a downturn during the summer, Mr Wilkes said.
He added: “We did have to close for a week and then for odd times here and there. And we held services and concerts around the scaffolding all summer.
“We tried to make the most of it, saying we were the only church in the city offering concerts in scaffolding.
“We did see fewer tourists coming to the church but I think that could have been more because of the rain than anything. I think visitors generally were just not visiting Oxford this summer.”
A special service to celebrate Michaelmas and give thanks for the restoration will be held at the church tonight from 5.30pm.