City of dreaming spires, etc etc! When I first got back I sent an exhausted and rather breathless email to Heidi saying: “London actually exists. Oxford is such a perfect place it makes me feel guilty that I saw it.” And it wasn’t just for effect. I actually felt guilty for finally seeing Oxford, which might tell you a little more about me than about Oxford, but nevertheless. A northwesterner like me can’t really believe these places weren’t just invented for bookish convenience.
We were staying in Katherine’s friend’s apartment, who was out of town for the weekend. The whole place was covered in books, which is exactly the kind of place I like. We got there pretty late at night and immediately went to bed, but when I woke up in the morning and looked out the window, I saw this:
Just look at that house! It was like being in a book. I’m really particular about my houses, and one of my favorite things about going to England was getting to see these houses, my gosh. I do really like the old-fashioned Bavarian farmhouse, but there’s no beating that English look. I, um, took a lot of pictures of random houses along the street, but I’ll try and spare you most of them. (But I know Courtney will want to see.)
I could tell that Katherine’s friend was a cool person simply from his book collection, but a really awesome specimen was his five (I think?) volume set of England’s State Trials. It began in the 12th century and included our friend:
“… but he being loth to aggravate the King’s Displeasure, would say no more than that the Statute was like a two-edged Sword, for if he spoke against it, he should be the Cause of the Death of his Body; and if he assented to it, he should purchase the Death of his Soul. …”
So Katherine and I decided to sight-see in the center for the first day, and save the Lewis and Tolkien sights for the next day, since they mostly lay on the outskirts. But some of Tolkien’s houses (he lived in several over his many years as a student and professor at Oxford) were nearby, so we went there first.
This isn’t one, this is just a house.
Here we go!
1930-47 — so this was his house during the years he was closest with Lewis.
And here’s another. I don’t think it had a sign, so I’m not sure of the dates.
I should also mention that, starting the day before, my back pain had flared up again. It was bad already in the morning, but got worse and worse, and so by the evening I was literally lying down at points during our walk. Ill get to that part of the story later, but, just so you know — I saw all these lovely things while under physical duress, so I don’t hold myself responsible for remembering what anything is. Ahem.
Looking into Keble College…
I think this is now a library or museum, but we might have to wait until Katherine reads this and can say…
The Eagle and Child! This was the main hangout for the Inklings (Lewis, Tolkien, Owen Barfield, Hugo Dyson, Charles Williams, etc.), although they also frequented other pubs, which I shall show you in due time!
Here we are inside.
Ha ha, they don’t milk it or anything.
Here’s the corner where we sat — and though it was quite early in the day, I had some wine, hoping it would help my back loosen up and feel less like a clenched fist. It did help my back, but it’s good I was with a friend, because we visited the Oxfam used bookstore immediately after, and my judgment was a little impaired. Only she could stop me from buying irresponsibly. These are the problems I have.
As I recall, as we sat in the booth we had a serious discussion about Harry Potter.
At some point, after a number of years, the Eagle & the Child was rearranged inside, and for some reason Lewis & Co. disliked it, so they moved across the street to the Lamb & Flag.
Here is our first Oxford church, the Oxford Oratory. It’s the little brother of the Brompton Oratory in London, and it looks like it, too — inside anyway.
Where Cardinal Newman preached (in 1890) and Gerard Manley Hopkins was curate — and where Tolkien often attended, although at that time it was run by the Jesuits. It came to the Oratorians only in 1990.
So beautiful! I quote from their website:
The church was designed by J. Hansom, the architect of Arundel Cathedral and the Holy Name church in Manchester. It is of French Gothic inspiration, and was originally colourfully decorated in an Italianate style. In 1954 the decoration was all painted over with two-tone grey. The last repainting in the 1970s gave the church the colours which can be seen today.
They painted it all over in TWO TONE GREY. What happened to humanity mid-century?? Really? Now, thankfully, it is chock full of color, but still retains a kind of elegant coolness.
A side altar, draped for Lent.
I love the patterns on the walls. Patterned wall detailing needs to come back into style for churches. None of this “beige blank walls represent God’s love for us” nonsense. Color!
The high altar. I wish I could see it during non-Lent times, with these beautiful reredos.
We also passed Blackfriars, where the Dominicans are. We went to Mass here the next morning, so I’ll wait to tell you more until then.
St Giles’ Church is a 12th-13th century beauty. You can read some about its history on its website, or (with more building history) on Wikipedia. First mentioned in 1086, finished in 1120. It was given to nearby Benedictine monks in 1139, and stayed with them until 1539, when Henry VIII closed down all the monasteries in England and took their land. (This is called the Dissolution of the Monasteries.) At the time it was built, it was a little ways out in the countryside, outside the walls of the city. Many other churches built beyond the edge of a town are also dedicated to St Giles, patron of outcasts and beggars.
Well, readers, it is fairly dark inside, and the smell of incense was unmistakeable. What could this mean?! It must be Anglo-Catholic. And sure enough, there’s a whole bunch of pamphets on that table there entitled “What is Anglo-Catholicism?” and so on. They use the 1662 Book of Common Prayer for the Eucharist and Sunday Evensong.
The two aisles, and an additional side chapel, were almost as wide as the nave, giving it an oddly segmented feeling. But a very pretty little church!
Here’s the chapel. I love it…
Not far away is the Oxford Martyrs memorial. Cranmer, Latimer, and Ridley were burned at the stake not far from here, on orders of Queen Mary I.
We stopped on the grass nearby here somewhere and ate lunch… when I was lying down, I could barely feel any pain in my back! But I was tired out enough that I don’t think I managed much conversation, at least that I remember. I should take this chance to praise Katherine’s great forbearance in putting up with my infirmity… and she even carried my purse the whole day!
Next up, the Ashmolean Museum, which is free, friends, FREE. I could have spent a lot of time here, but with my back, we kind of got in and got out. I just made sure I saw the main medieval collection. My number one priority was…
If you’re interested, you can view these at their full resolution. Here are some descriptions:
1. Lombard copy of a Byzantine coin ft. Emperor Maurice Tiberius (582-602). Italy still looks to the eastern Roman Empire. 2. Coins from Theodebert (534-38) in Merovingian France. 5. The Carolingian penny, current in the entire West; the first reads CAROLVS, issued 771-794. 6. By the Normans in Italy, with a chivalric symbol of a rider on a horse. 7. French coins from the 1100s and 1200s – featuring the Virgin Mary and Marseilles. 8. German coins from the 1100s and 1200s. They really look cool! 9. Coins showing the pope. 10. 13th century Italian coins — on the right Frederick II is pictured. 11. 13th century coins from Venice and Florence. The Venetian coin shows St Mark and his lion, the symbol of Venice… 12. 14th century France.
Royal gloves. The white pair were presented to Elizabeth I on a visit, but supposedly left behind because they were unflatteringly large.
A Roman lady. I think.
An awesome model ship. I would steal that.
The Annunciation. Two things I love about this: on the far right, her little platform for reading her prayers (her Book of Hours, as often portrayed), and in the upper left hand corner, God the Father breathing out the Holy Spirit (the dove) into Mary’s ear. The bird flying into her ear is a traditional way to depict Christ’s conception, but I can’t remember if I’ve seen the Father spewing him out before.
Medieval liturgical items — on the left is a paten (1100-1400), and on the right a pyx (1200-1250).
A 14th century sword and some daggers (1500-1700).
I can’t tell whose coin this is, but I like it.
A rune stone from Sweden, between 1100-1150. The inscription states: Lidsmod had this stone carved in memory of Julbjörn [his] father.
And this is Offa’s Stone, from 1056! The late Anglo Saxon inscription is in Latin and reads: “Earl Odda ordered this royal church to be built and dedicated in honor of the Holy Trinity for the soul of his brother Aelfric which was taken up from this place. And Ealdred was the bishop who dedicated the same on the second of the Ides of April and in the fourteenth year of the reign of Edward, King of the English.” That was April 12, 1056.
Finally, here’s lots of Anglo Saxon thingies.
And that’s the last of the Ashmolean! We went on to Blackwell’s bookstore.
And oh man. I ended up just buying one book (go me!). But there were many. I think I was so overwhelmed with contentment that I forgot to take pictures of the inside. But also, my back was steadily getting worse, and I think I stood too much. Then we met up with Katherine’s friend, who has lived in Oxford for a while, and she knew some more Tolkien/Lewis/Dorothy Sayers tidbits.
(Look at the lighting in this picture! You can see how long we spent in the bookstore.) This is the Bridge of Sighs, so called because of its resemblance to the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, WHICH I HAVE ACTUALLY SEEN, weird, huh? Anyway, this is where Lord Peter Wimsey proposes to Harriet Vane, if you are interested to know.
Tolkien supposedly thought this tower (the Radcliffe Camera) resembled Sauron’s temple to Morgoth in Numenor, which would be in the Silmarillion, which means we have passed beyond the reaches of my Tolkien knowledge.
I was starting to lag, so we started looking for a place to sit and eat. We tried the Turf Tavern, but it was completely full (don’t worry, we went the next day), and so we ended up at another favorite Inklings pub, The Mitre.
By the way, this is the place where I completed my Englishization by having both cream tea with scones AND pims.
And once again, after the rest, I felt much better, but almost immediately as we got up and started to walk, my back was in the same condition as before. SIDE NOTE: I did go to the doctor about this, once I was back in Germany, but she just prescribed exercise and some natural muscle relaxant, which I would have expected. Still, it was FREE. I went to the doctor for FREE! (By which I mean, the insurance that I’m on covered it with no copay.)
It was getting closer to evening…
and we walked quite a ways…
… until we reached St Cross Church. Possibly founded in 890, this church supposedly has a 12th century chancel arch that I would’ve liked to see. But it was locked up, and apparently this church has been CLOSED since 2008, and will be converted into use as a historic collections center. THANKS A LOT, people in Oxford who don’t attend church often enough to finance the continued use of nearly 1000 year old churches. Thank you.
This is the church where Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane get married, by the way.
And in the attached cemetery…
Somewhere nearby, Kenneth Grahame is buried.
And Hugo Dyson.
And Charles Williams.
After this, we started our walk back. My back/now hip pain was such that I would walk ahead very quickly (which seemed to feel better) and then sit down and wait for the others to get to me. At one point someone, I forget who, said it felt uncomfortably like the Stations of the Cross, which was a great joke, and the next time that I stopped to lie down on my back, I said, is this ‘Jesus falls for the first time’ or ‘the third time’? And then I couldn’t stop laughing. Maybe you had to be there, or maybe I had reached the discomfort threshold beyond which is hysterical silliness. But actually, although I registered the pain on some level, I was overall so happy and thrilled to be where I was that it all seemed kind of funny. And THEN we saw these ducks engaged in either a violent fight or a violent attempt to mate, and we watched in horror for a good five or six minutes, feeling that we ought to intervene to save the female duck from whatever kind of duck sexual assault might have been going on, but they were on the other side of the fence, so we just tried to encourage the female duck to fly away. It was weird!
Eventually we got a bus home, because I couldn’t quite walk, and then I laid down and Katherine, AGAIN, cooked me yummy dinner, and I looked through some of her friend’s sacred music CDs and maybe added a few of them onto my computer, and we talked about theology and religious subcultures until it was time to sleep.
It was a great day, and lo, my post has ended. I’m really going to try to post Day 2 very soon!