A fabulous day in lovely lovely Oxford started off right with a stop in at the Bodleian. Though there are over 120 libraries in the University, the Bodleian is the most recognized name among them. It has its origins in the fourteenth century, when Bishop of Worcester donated funds to construct the original building. The most famous patron of Oxford’s library, Sir Thomas Bodley, donated money and many books of his own to the cause of replenishing the institution’s supply of books, which had been reduced to almost nothing after the 1550 removal of all books deemed too popish for the use of a Protestant organization. Bodley’s legacy also includes the agreement originated by him with the Stationers’ Company of London, which stated that the Bodleian was entitled to a copy of every book published in England. Though much about publishing in England has changed, this agreement stands to this day, leading to the current staggering 13-million-book collection.
The tour started in the room originally used for examinations for theology students. It later became the library, until it was moved into the current library. This room was quite exciting for me, as I kind of have a thing for great fan vaulting.
The next room has a strong tie with English history – the throne standing at the end of the room is was used by Charles I when he sought shelter at Oxford from the hostile Parliamentary forces. He held court in this very room during his stay here. It’s humbling to think about the history that stands in this room. Obviously, we weren’t allowed to touch King Charles’s chair, much less sit in it, or even approach it, really, but in that moment the connection to the ill-fated monarch was unmistakable.
Our second class visit of the day was to Christ Church College, founded by Cardinal Wolsey in 1524. This beautiful college was originally called Cardinal College in honor of its powerful founder, but was changed to Aedes Christi when it was re-founded by Henry VIII in 1546, after Cardinal Wolsey’s fall from power.
It has seen many famous students in its long history, from John Locke to John Wesley, and even beloved author Lewis Carroll.
As well as all of this academic history, Christ Church College has a more pop culture related claim to fame as the set for scenes from the Harry Potter movies, such as the Great Hall and the stairs leading to it. It is amazing to think about the fact that, for some lucky students, this incredible place is part of their daily lives. How often do colleges in the US have china personalized with the name of the school? How often do students at colleges anywhere enjoy their meals under the watchful eyes of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I?
Finally, no trip to Oxford would be complete without a stop by The Eagle and Child, the pub where the The Inklings met. This literary group’s most famous members were J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, but many other academics and writers joined them for their informal meetings. It was here that now-famous works such as J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and C. S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet first saw the light of day. The narrow hallways and small rooms look like just the place that hobbits and centaurs might spring to life.