A preview of delights to come.
Oh! I also forgot to write something at the end of my last post. While we were eating dinner, we looked out the living room windows and saw some boys across the street signalling us from their bedroom window. Boys, actual nine- or ten-year-old boys — don’t get any ideas! They lived in the boarding school houses across the way, and we’d seen them walking off to class in the morning, in their cute private schoolboy uniforms. When they saw us looking back at them, their waving and jumping around in front of the window got more exuberant, and once we started waving, they just couldn’t get over how fun it was. It was super cute, all these little kids in their pajamas, in their shared bedroom, getting frantically excited that the neighbors were waving back at them! But eventually we had to be the grown ups and stop waving, because the kids weren’t going to. Then an adult came in the room, saw the boys pointing at out the window, and pulled the curtains shut…
The next morning, we got up and ready in time for Mass at Blackfriars, also taking some time to plan our Lewis/Tolkien tour for the day. We had to go a little outside the center of Oxford to see their respective gravestones and The Kilns. After getting a lot of rest the night before and taking painkillers, my back improved a lot, and my rest-stops were much less frequent. It was a big relief to be more comfortable!
But here’s the walk over to Blackfriars… this is Pusey House:
and library. Edward Pusey was one of the leaders of the Oxford Movement. Once I had this idea to write a graphic novel about the Oxford Movement, and I was going to focus on Newman and Pusey as my two protagonists, largely because I just really like Pusey’s face:
And mutton-chops are fun to draw.
And here we are at Blackfriars. The Blackfriars are the Dominicans, an order of the Catholic Church that focuses on preaching and study. You can recognize them by their white habit with black cape and hood — thus, Blackfriars. There are also Whitefriars (Carmelites) and Greyfriars (Franciscans). But what are friars? The terminology can be a bit confusing at first — a “friar” (another word for “brother”) is not a monk, because he doesn’t live in a cloister or take a vow of stability, but he does live in community with other friars and takes vows of poverty, celibacy, and obedience. Not all friars are priests (which means being ordained so that they can administer sacraments).
It was strange to hear Mass in English again, and it was only the second time I’d heard the new English translation, which took effect in December. I messed up all of the responses, of course.
The interior of the church, after Mass, as the friars pray the Divine Office. I was excited to see this church because one of my favorite Flickr photographers is a friar here, and I’ve seen Blackfriars in his liturgical and architectural photographs for several years now…
Here’s part of the priory, alongside the church.
So then we hopped on a bus and rode north of town to Wolvercote Cemetery, where JRR Tolkien is buried.
You can see that other people had come by to leave some tokens of affection.
His oldest son John is buried nearby.
It is, all in all, a not too depressing place for Tolkien to be buried.
This is the Saxon belltower of St Michael at the Northgate, dating from 1040. Oxford’s oldest building.
Later work on the south side.
I don’t know what exactly this used to be, but it’s cool!
And then, a castle! In Oxford! It’s one of those odd Gothic revival constructions that shows up even in places like Louisiana. (Actually, that capitol building bears a strong resemblance to this whatever-it-is.) I really dislike Gothic revival castles, particularly when they turn actual architectural features into little stylistic motifs, like the very small turrets and parapets. It just looks dumb.
This is the McDonald’s by the roundabout where our bus stop was for visiting The Kilns. Yes, horrible, travshamockery, etc., but it’s kinda cute, innit??
Aaaand here we are
The Kilns! This is where C.S. Lewis lived for the last 30 years of his life, during the time when he wrote everything you have ever read of his. (Unless, ahem, like me, you have read Spirits in Bondage*, or his early letters. I went through a stage when I was 14-16 where I read everything by C.S. Lewis that I could get my hands on. Ironically, I think the only work of his I still haven’t read is his most significant scholarly work on medieval literature, The Allegory of Love. But I do own it at least.)
(*I’ve never read Dymer because I could never find a copy. Sadly, it’s not like his early stuff is really good… it’s just that I’m a completist.)
I love C.S. Lewis.
There’s a smallish nature preserve behind the house (which is now in a completely suburban neighborhood — while he lived there, the house was surrounded by eight acres of woodland).
We then walked over to his church, where he is buried. This is Holy Trinity in Headington.
Built in 1849, it’s a nice little Gothic revival parish church.
See the column in the upper right hand of the picture? According To The Internet, Lewis and his brother Warnie sat in the pew just in front of it to the left. There’s supposed to be a little plaque, and I looked for it, but didn’t see it.
Lewis was, at least as a new Christian, a not very happy church-goer. He was nevertheless a faithful attendee at 8am communion on Sundays, and at least in later life frequented confession, so he wasn’t completely at odds with (relatively high) Anglican worship. But I think if he stepped foot into any kind of “contemporary worship service,” he might keel over and die. This is what he had to say about liturgical worship that made a huge impression on me at sixteen:
It looks as if they [ie clergymen] believed people can be lured to go to church by incessant brightenings, lightenings, lengthenings, abridgements, simplifications and complications of the service. … Novelty, simply as such, can have only an entertainment value. And [the faithful] don’t go to church to be entertained. They go to use the service, or, if you prefer, to enact it. Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best – if you like, it ‘works’ best – when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you do not notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.
But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about worship is a different thing from worshipping. … A still worse thing may happen. Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant. You know what I mean. Try as one may to exclude it, the question, ‘What on earth is he up to now?’ will intrude. It lays one’s devotion waste. … Thus my whole liturgiological position really boils down to an entreaty for permanence and uniformity. … (copied in from here)
The “Narnia window,” which was installed in 1991 as a memorial for some children from the parish who died.
A corner in the back, which looks like a baby-shushing corner, also doubles as something of a Lewis shrine!
Here is the Mason’s Arms, a pub where Lewis and his brother would often go after church to drink and talk.
The “cult of Lewis” is really strongest among American evangelicals (which, as has been pointed out many times, is a little ironic, for a liturgically-worshipping, pipe-smoking, beer-drinking, mostly-bachelor, medievalist Oxford don) but there are traces of it here… The Kilns itself is run by an American-based group that offers the house to visiting professors on sabbatical and so on. They clearly get their share of “pilgrims” in to the church, as evidenced by the sign leading into the graveyard:
It’s a quiet little graveyard, across the hill from some ponies.
Mrs. Moore is also buried here.
And here are Jack and Warnie.
Warnie explained the epitaph, a line from King Lear, and its connection with their mother, who died when they were young children:
There was a Shakespearean calendar hanging on the wall of the room where [our mother] died, and my father preserved for the rest of his life the leaf for that day, with its quotation: “Men must endure their going hence.”
Lewis wrote about intercessory prayer and prayer for the dead not long after his good friend Charles Williams died. He said that as Christians, the dead are in a sense closer to us after death than they were before, and that nothing is more natural than to continue praying for those you’ve prayed for during their earthly lives. Tolkien, a devout Catholic, needed no such personalized justifications, and of course habitually prayed for the dead. So I was blessed and happy to be able to return the favor and pray for both these men, who had such an impact on my early life, kneeling by their graves, where they await the Resurrection.
In this neighborhood we made a new friend.
He was very shy, but not so shy that he wouldn’t beg us wordlessly to scratch his head.
I REALLY MISS my cat.
Alright, back to the university.
The Bridge of Sighs again.
We stopped at the Turf Tavern for lunch.
Something I read online said that they served mead. But, they did not. So I had summer ale.
And yummy fish.
Then we went to visit the Bodleian Library. Swoon!
There was a very awesome exhibit on romances (that is, narrative adventure stories in the vernacular) in medieval literature, with illuminated manuscripts, art, etc. Check out the website here. There were 100% no pictures allowed, and for once I obeyed the rules.
I also visited the gift shop — of course — and got a whole bunch of postcards, including some with Tolkien’s illustrations or historical stuff, etc.
Honestly don’t remember where this came from. But it’s pretty!
Walking through Oxford…
Here is the Eastgate Hotel, yet ANOTHER place Lewis, Tolkien & co. liked to meet up to have some drinks. We didn’t go inside.
Then we went to visit Magdalen College, which is open to the public. It’s one of the older colleges in the university, and was Lewis’s college for most of his career at Oxford. We’d tried to visit Katherine’s own college, St John’s, the day before, but people were having a wedding there or something (I think I remember?) Either way, Magdalen ended up being the only college I saw, but it was beautiful!
The tower you see is Magdalen Tower, built around the turn of the 15th century.
I just like architectural layers, that’s all.
These are punts. Used for punting. In Oxford. On the Thames. You get the idea.
I listed all the books I’d read with characters who went punting on the Thames. This is the kind of pastime I enjoy: sorting books I have read into obscure categories.
Hey look at this building.
Facade statuary is quickly becoming one of my favorite things!
And this building.
I apologize for not explaining these buildings to you, but I don’t really know them myself, and finding out would take more energy than I feel like I should give it, after having this post in my draft folder for so long. Sorry!
I mean, I’m going to guess that this is part of the cloister quad that each college would have been built around originally.
This is the “New Building,” from the mid 18th century. I think Lewis’ rooms were in the middle section, the three on the bottom right. Some pictures online show his rooms marked by red flowers in the windowsill, but I didn’t see any.
Not far away is Addison’s Walk. The paths have been here since about the 16th century, Wiki tells me. But it’s just part of the grounds of the college, very sedate and gardeny.
But some of you fellow Lewis readers might know that this was a favorite place of his to walk and talk things over, and that one night in 1931 his conversation here with Tolkien and Hugo Dyson — about “myth becoming fact” — helped him to upgrade (as it were…) from a theist to a Christian.
At one point on the river, there’s a plaque with a poem of Lewis’:
“What the Bird Said Early in the Year”
I heard in Addison’s Walk a bird sing clear:
This year the summer will come true. This year. This year.
Winds will not strip the blossom from the apple trees
This year nor want of rain destroy the peas.
This year time’s nature will no more defeat you.
Nor all the promised moments in their passing cheat you.
This time they will not lead you round and back
To Autumn, one year older, by the well worn track.
This year, this year, as all these flowers foretell,
We shall escape the circle and undo the spell.
Often deceived, yet open once again your heart,
Quick, quick, quick, quick! – the gates are drawn apart.
Eternity intruding on human time, revelation intruding on mythology, Christ’s Incarnation and Resurrection intruding on the cycle of natural death and rebirth… If the story of Christ carries mythological meaning, Tolkien argued, this doesn’t make it less worthy of belief, but rather more worthy. In Christ, the mythologies of the pagans are “made fact,” given an actual instance, in Christ who is God incarnate, and this has the potential to radically reorient our idea of what is truly real. (Lewis was a great Platonist!)
Back into the main buildings, this time to see…
…the dining room which looks like something straight out of Harry Potter:
I like to mentally compare this to where I ate in college, and I laugh and laugh.
Walking through toward the chapel…
This is a part of some coat of arms on the wall…
This is the small vestibule outside the chapel.
Inside, there is not much to see on this side. But peek through the choir screen:
Bam! The choir and chancel.
Okay, now, we are almost done. Really and truly. Hang on.
Entrance to Merton College, which dates from the 1260s. TS Eliot was a Merton alumnus, and Tolkien was a fellow.
At this point it was late afternoon, and we’d managed to do everything we’d had on our checklist. So we went and sat in a field not far from Christ Church, where they were also having a big book festival of some kind. After swearing up and down that I wouldn’t buy another book… I did. But it made me happy! We ate and talked and I was just starting to get bitter about how my own college experience measured up — when it was time to go in for Evensong at Christ Church!
Here we are back in the choir, where we got to sit in the choirstalls (!!!!) while the real choir (just the boys, not the men, that evening) sat in the stalls further out toward the nave.
This is what I saw when I sat in my seat and looked up. Yeah.
I was so impressed by Evensong at Christ Church — there were other sightseers with us in the stalls, but the majority of them seemed willing to at least try and follow along with the prayers and singing, and the man leading it (ugh it annoys me so much to not know the right vocabulary for this – the cantor?) had a beautiful resonant voice. I liked it much better than at Southwark Cathedral, but that could have been for several reasons…
Overall, in England, I got enough of a sense of the Church of England to be able to tell that it really is unlike anything else I’ve experienced: obviously more formal and venerable and rich than evangelicalism or arguably American mainstream Protestantism, but also more particular than Catholicism, with a clear grounding in a national identity. I honestly didn’t expect to get such an immediate sense of the “established Church,” that sense that the Church of England is somehow intrinsic to inherited “Englishness,” but I DID. But whatever gave me this impression, it was so apparently non-discursive or at least non-identifiable that I can’t point to any one thing in particular.
Maybe I just have a nose for churches. It could be. 🙂
The high altar.
For the real singers.
On our walk home, I wanted to take one more picture to close out the day, before it got too dark, and I decided on a lamppost… for obvious reasons, Narnia readers.
We went back to the flat, ate dinner, packed up all our stuff, and went back to London on the train.
But first, we had to have me try on the Venetian-style disguise that Katherine’s friend had hanging on his coat rack. I look very dark and mysterious, do I not?
This making of this post was unfortunately so drawn out and written so long after the fact that I’m afraid my sheer happiness might not come through. But I was totally overwhelmed by the end of the second day. Oxford… so great it should not, rightfully speaking, exist at all. It’s a good thing I was never allowed to go to school there.
SO ENDETH MY OXFORD POSTS
(but I have one more day of London to post…)