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The Sheldonian Theatre was built in 1664-7 as the ceremonial centre for the University of Oxford, a function which is still fulfils three years on. Academic ceremonies had formerly been conducted in St Mary's church in the High Street, but they were apt to become rowdy. The idea of building a new ceremonial hall originated with John Fell, Dean of Christ Church and in 1663 a site was acquired immediately to the north of the Divinity School. In the same year a model was prepared by Christopher Wren with work starting in the following year. The building opened in 1669 abd it was the first building in Oxford, and one of the first in England, to be modelled directly on a structure dating from the classical antiquity. The model was the U-shaped Theatre of Marcellus in Rome. Roman theatres were arranged with banked seating facing the stage, behind which there was a permanent backdrop; there was no permanent roof structure. Several modifications had to be made before this model could be adapted to the needs of the University. Most important, a roof needed to be constructed with a 21.5 metre span uninterrupted by internal supports. The structure of the roof was concealed by a huge painting carried out in London by the King's seargant-painter Robert Streater, an early example of English illusionist decoration. The focal point of the building is the curved northern end, where an elaborately carved chair for the Chancellor or his representative was placed. At first floor level there is a wooden gallery, resting on Corinthian columns, and supporting extra rows of banked seating. The stone for the building came from Headington (the ground storeys), Burford and Barrington, while the upper stages were built in Taynton stone. The whole south elevation is in original Barrington stone in the upper stage with Windrud stone in the lower stage. The upper part of the North elevation was refaced in Bath stone, probably in 1838, and since partly refaced in Clipsham stone.

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