Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Mum's visit: Oxford

Our extra-London adventures took us throughout the England countryside - we all kept on the lookout for sheep - and the weather couldn't have been better. England's green and pleasant land indeed! I adored my views of those rolling green hills from the window of the rental car. Now I just need to take a train trip across England!

We started off with a trip to Swindon to visit one of mum's school friends. He lives in the most picturesque English neighborhood I could possibly imagine, and to make the experience even better, made me an impromptu steamed pudding when I confessed that I'd never had one and was dying to try it. We then headed up to Oxford, where we stayed for two nights in a quaint little bed and breakfast, giving us a day and a half to roam throughout these streets I'd only ever read about.

Oxford totally rocks. Case in point:

Walking into central Oxford, we happened to spot one of husband's professors across the street! So we ran over to say hello, and ended up parting ways with my mum for a bit. It was funny to see someone from Duke while on our trip here in England! Trying to catch back up with mum, we got distracted by the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, and being us, we couldn't help wandering in. Neither of us were quite prepared for what we found inside.

This is the pulpit from which the likes of John Wesley, C.S. Lewis, and John Henry Newman preached, and below it, a memorial to the martyrs of the English Reformation, both Protestants and Catholics alike. I was quite overcome by this unusual recognition that believers of both traditions suffered and died for their faith, and I had to sit down quietly for a few minutes to silently say a prayer for all those who died whose names and stories we don't know.

And then, before we knew it, we had wandered into the courtyard of the Bodleian Library. Have I mentioned that Oxford is truly awesome? The courtyard featured doorways labeled with the subjects of the classical trivium and quadrivium, as well as a few philosophies. Husband proudly recalls that the unlabeled door leading to the divinity school is meant to indicate that theology is the queen of the sciences. 

Though their exhibition room was closed, there was a gorgeous mini exhibit on Wycliffite Bibles, which even had some useful descriptions that could lead to interesting avenues in my research on devotional materials from a century later. And of course, not knowing if we'll get back to Oxford to actually use the Bodleian for research this summer, we took a tour!

Providing me with a splendid opportunity to completely geek out, we found the Eagle and Child ("The Bird and Baby"), the pub where the Inklings (C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and crowd) used to meet on Tuesday mornings to drink and think great thoughts together. I couldn't help taking a bunch of photos:

 This last photo includes the signatures of all the Inklings, and my favorite bit is at the bottom, where J.R.R. Tolkien proudly points out that he is the father of the above Christopher Tolkien.

Finally, we spent a highly pleasant afternoon frequenting St. Philip's Bookstore - a specialist in theology books, though unfortunately, neither of us found any books we couldn't live without - and the Bate Collection of musical instruments. This last was really quirky and fun. They had theremins on display and let us try them out, and we even saw Handel's harpsichord (they think - it's the only one by that maker that survives today, and there's a portrait of Handel containing an instrument that looks very much like this one) and the harpsichord that Haydn played when he visited England. There was also a really interesting cabinet displaying bow-making tools, which will soon be augmented by a researcher with a grant coming to work on this set.

It only enhanced this trip that I'm currently in the middle of a Lord of the Rings re-read. It also made me really want to re-read Philip Pullman's Dark Materials now that I have an actual mental picture of Lyra's Oxford!

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