Sir Lenny Henry CBE during the Encaenia Ceremony
Sir Lenny Henry CBE during the Encaenia Ceremony
Credit: John Cairns


Encaenia is the ceremony at which the University of Oxford awards honorary degrees to distinguished men and women and commemorates its benefactors. It is held annually on the Wednesday of ninth week during Trinity Term.


Encaenia is a Greek word for a festival of renewal; in St John's gospel it is traditionally translated as 'festival of dedication'. The word corresponds to the term 'commencement', from the Latin, used in many North American universities for the chief ceremony of the academic year.

The Oxford Encaenia is the surviving part of a more extensive ceremony called 'The Act'. This used to include ambitious musical works, often composed for the occasion, and traditional features such as a satirical speech, often scurrilous and sometimes scandalous, by an anonymous speaker known as Terrae Filius, 'Son of the Earth'. The Act was originally held in the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, a setting many people thought unsuitable. Such feeling prompted its move in 1670 to the Sheldonian Theatre.

By 1760 the ceremony had assumed a form much like today. It was largely reshaped by the will of Nathaniel, Lord Crewe (1633-1721), successively Rector of Lincoln College, Bishop of Oxford and Bishop of Durham, who left money to the University for this and other purposes.

An early history of honorary degrees

Lord Crewe's Benefaction, Procession and Ceremony

On the morning of the ceremony, the heads of colleges, university dignitaries, holders of the Oxford degrees of Doctor of Divinity, Civil Law, Medicine, Letters, Science, and Music, and the honorands assemble, in full academic dress, in one of the colleges, where they enjoy Lord Crewe's Benefaction. They then walk in procession to the Sheldonian Theatre on Broad Street.

The University dignitaries enter the theatre in procession; those who are to receive honorary degrees wait in the Divinity School where they sign their names in the Honorary Degrees Book. They are then escorted into the theatre by the Bedels.

Once the proceedings have been opened by the Chancellor, or in his absence by the Vice-Chancellor, each honorand is introduced by the Public Orator with a speech in Latin and admitted to his or her new degree by the Chancellor. The Orator then delivers the Creweian Oration on the events of the past year and in commemoration of the University's benefactors. In alternate years the Professor of Poetry delivers the second part of this speech.

Encaenia Lunch

For over 100 years All Souls College has hosted a lunch after the ceremony for the honorands, their guests, and other senior members of the collegiate University and the local community.

Garden Party

To conclude the day’s celebrations the Vice-Chancellor hosts a garden party for the honorands, their guests, and members of Congregation. Please see the FAQ below, 'How do I get tickets?' for further details on invitations.

Encaenia FAQs

When is Encaenia?

Encaenia is held annually on the Wednesday of ninth week during Trinity Term. Please see the ‘Forthcoming Encaenia dates’ box above.

Timings of the day

The Encaenia day consists of four elements:
10:30 - Lord Crewe’s Benefaction
11:30 - Encaenia Ceremony
13:30 - Encaenia Lunch
16:15 - Encaenia Garden Party

How do I get tickets?

Ceremony: Registration opens at the beginning of May each year and a registration link will be added to this page. Members of Congregation (please see section entitled Congregation Membership below for further details), staff, students, and Academic Visitors can apply for tickets online (will require SSO). Convocation members (alumni and retired members of Congregation) can apply for a ticket, from the beginning of May each year, by emailing (please do not email before this point). Your ticket will be emailed to you a few days before the event. Tickets to the ceremony are not available to members of the public.

Lord Crewe’s Benefaction: Attendance is restricted to the following members of the University:

  • Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor
  • Pro-Vice-Chancellors
  • Heads of Houses
  • Heads of Division
  • The Proctors and the Assessor
  • The Public Orator
  • The Professor of Poetry
  • The Registrar
  • Outgoing President of the Oxford University Student Union
  • Presidents of the JCR & MCR of the colleges of the Proctors and the Assessor
  • Holders of the Oxford Higher Degrees of: Doctor of Divinity, Civil Law, Medicine, Letters, Science, and Music

Holders of the Oxford Higher Degrees (described above) are invited to contact the Events Office at to apply for a ticket. All other eligible guests will be contacted individually by the Events Office.

Encaenia Garden Party: 

Electronic invitations to the garden party will be sent to all current members of Congregation by the University Events Office by the middle of May each year (please see section entitled Congregation Membership below for further details). If you do not receive your invitation by then, or become a member of Congregation after this date, please email

Actively serving retired members of faculty and staff within Congregation are also welcome to attend, as are emeritus professors and those former members of Congregation over 75 who take a deep and active interest in Oxford’s work and success. Please email if you would like to attend.

Congregation Membership:

If you are not yet a member of Congregation, you will need to have been granted membership prior to registering for the Ceremony and Garden Party as a Congregation member. Further information regarding Congregation membership can be found on the criteria for congregation membership page.

Can I bring a guest?

Some guest tickets are available for the Ceremony; please check the registration page to see who is eligible to apply for a guest ticket. Members of Congregation can bring a guest to the Garden Party. 

Guest tickets are not available for Lord Crewe’s Benefaction.

I’ve got a ticket to the Ceremony. Where can I sit? 

Your ticket will tell you which section of the Sheldonian Theatre you will be sitting in and where you should enter the building.

Can I process into the Ceremony?

Only those members of the collegiate University eligible to attend Lord Crewe’s Benefaction may process into the ceremony.

Where does the procession take place/can I watch?

The procession leaves from a college near the Sheldonian Theatre and walks through Radcliffe Square into the Bodleian Old Quad, through the Divinity School and into the Sheldonian Theatre.

The area will be closed to the general public for the procession but there are points around Radcliffe Square where you will be able to see the route.

What should I wear to:

Lord Crewe’s Benefaction?

University of Oxford academic dress must be worn.

Holders of higher doctorates should wear their scarlet robe over subfusc, bands and the appropriate cap.

Those with DPhils should wear their scarlet robe over subfusc.

Those with Bachelors and Masters should wear their black gown over subfusc, hood and mortarboard/soft cap.

Current students should wear commoners, scholars or graduate gown over subfusc.


Those with a degree from the University of Oxford should follow the same rules as for Lord Crewe’s Benefaction (above). 

Members of Congregation who do not have a degree from the University of Oxford should wear a plain black gown, with hood, over subfusc.

Those with degrees from University of Cambridge or Trinity College Dublin may wear academic dress from their university.

If you hold multiple degrees from Oxford, Cambridge or Trinity College Dublin (e.g. MA and PhD) you should wear the academic dress of your highest degree honour.

Please note, mortarboards should be removed upon entering the Sheldonian and kept off for the duration of the ceremony. Soft caps may be retained.

Guests who do not hold an Oxford, Cambridge or Trinity College Dublin degree nor are members of Congregation should wear business attire; robes from all other universities are not permitted.

Full academic dress guidelines, including a description of subfusc, are available here.

Garden Party?

Gowns and hoods, clerical or national dress, military uniform or afternoon attire.

Those holding degrees from other Universities are encouraged to wear the academic dress appropriate to their degrees.