Magdalen College Oxford Outdoor Sermon, OxfordshireLike so many of our customs, Magdalen's outdoor sermon suffered a period when it was not observed, the practice ending in 1766. In 1896 it was revived, by no less a figure than Cosmo Lang , at that time an academic at the college, but later to become Archbishop of Canterbury.
The outdoor sermon at Magdalen is preached on the Sunday falling nearest St John the Baptist's day - June 24. Such outdoor sermons and services were, it seems, a fairly well-recognized method of raising funds for worthy causes in centuries long past, while keeping the unworthy and unwashed outside the walls of the great institution holding the event. In the case of the Magdalen sermon the cause was the Hospital of St John the Baptist, which stood on part of the ground occupied by Magdalen - part of the chapel of the hospital is incorporated in the college buildings, as is part of the hall which houses the college kitchens.
There is an outdoor pulpit built into the wall at the entrance of the Chaplain's Quadrangle, which dates from the end of the fifteenth century, when most of the college buildings were erected. On the day of the sermon straw is strewn in the quadrangle, and a beautifully embroidered hanging draped from the outdoor pulpit, a wonderful if perhaps unconscious example of the separation of town and gown, though these days the congregation is as gown as the preacher, with the great and the good of the institution sitting beneath the pulpit.
More British Folk Customs?