Thursday, August 7, 2014

June 30: Oxford!

Today was especially exciting considering we went to Oxford University to tour their oldest library, the Bodleian. Oxford actually has a great many libraries: each college within the university has its own library; however, the Bodleian is the oldest and boasts the most historic collections. 
Chilling at Oxford

Upon arriving in Oxford, I got many shots of the library and the town itself. We were not allowed to take pictures in the book area of the library, but we were allowed to shoot the exterior and many of the rooms on the first floor. Once we were inside, I was blown away by the ornate detail in the architecture, particularly the ceilings, which was so intricate. Sitting in the library, one can just feel the history there.

Defense time!
Essentially, the room you are looking at was erected in the late 12th century. Oxford was initially created to be a Catholic theology school, producing priests. Most of the historic books there are in Latin because of this. The room has a long and fascinating history, which far surpasses the scope or space of this blog, but the main point is this room was used for "dissertation defenses," if you will. The two rows of seats you see near the altar were where onlookers would sit. There were two podiums on either side, which is where the professors would stand as they quizzed you. The one doing the defending would stand in the middle. Talk about stress! The room was designed to resemble chapels as a supplement to the main church on campus. 

Our tour guide was the most charming and hilarious person I've met so far! He was on fire with the jokes, but in a reserved, English way. At one point, he explained why 1209 was considered the founding date of Oxford: the seeds of the reformation had been planted, and many of the Oxford students did not want to deal with the religious and power implications. The tour guide said there was a difference of opinion on the extent to which religious doctrine should determine education. Therefore, a group of students broke with Oxford and formed what the guide called "that other place"--i.e., Cambridge. He said the name once, and then made many subsequent jokes about how he had accidentally said the “forbidden name.” Ha!

I was fascinated with the library, but was unsure as to who uses it and how. It felt more like something that was preserved for historic reasons, which is certainly useful, than a library for academic use. Still, the collection of materials there is tremendous and well worth savoring, especially for those interested in library studies.

We were all sad when the tour ended, but that meant lunch, much to our empty stomachs' relief. For the main meal of the day, two friends and I went to the Eagle and Child, the pub that was a favorite meeting place of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis! This site provides information about Tolkien-related locations in Oxford, including the Eagle and the Child.

All in all, the Oxford trip was especially rewarding!

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