Saturday, 22 July 2017

An Oxford Pilgrimage, Part 1



My sister said, "We're going to Oxford.  Start saving."

That was back in March.  She and my parents planned to visit from the States mid-July, and Caroline was astonished I'd never been there.  Wasn't I the one who blathered on about my pipe dream of attending Oxbridge?  Who read seventeen C.S. Lewis books her first year in college?  Who wouldn't allow her little sister to attend The Fellowship of the Rings movie premier without first finishing The Hobbit?  Unacceptable!

With my folks in town, they could help take care of Roan so John could focus on Afon.  So on Tuesday afternoon we packed up and caught the train--about a four-hour journey with two change-overs--and arrived at the little guest house she'd booked on Banbury Lane, north of the city center.

We had no idea what we were doing, but we knew we didn't want to join a tour.  We're painfully aware of tourists clogging up the thoroughfares of natives when traveling in packs and wanted to avoid that like the plague.  Also, we had our own priorities and wouldn't appreciate being told where to go when, and how long to linger.  So with a cursory look over a map and Fr. Longenecker's suggestions, we set out on the bus Wednesday morning and deposited ourselves into Oxford.



We started at Christ Church College, through the gates onto the gravel drive parallel with the golden stone hall on one side and open fields on the other.  Asian tourists swarmed in knots, taking pictures, and we declined paying ten pounds to see the staircase and dining hall as seen in Harry Potter and ducked in a gate that cut across a garden, peaceful and quiet, disturbed only by one or two tourists and the occasional student.

This led to a side street through a wall, and we passed a set of doors that peeked into a courtyard.



A man lifted the rope and walked through, carrying two long, dry branches.  Bearded, white-haired, in a dirty dress shirt and slacks, willowy and withered, he looked like a shipwrecked sailor.  He said,  in a pristine old-world Oxford accent: "Sorry, I can't let you in."



"That's okay," we said, "We're just looking!"

We started to leave, and maybe it was our polite obedience or maybe he had been joking, but he stopped me and told me to "call back my friend," because he would let us in.

He unhooked the rope and showed us around.  This turned out not to be part of Christ Church at all, but a small college called Corpus Christi.  It the the closed solitude of a private garden.  Our caretaker-tour guide led us into a small corridor and into the dining hall.  This is where the students take their meals.  The walls are lined with the paintings of important, head people.  The benches had recently been replaced by chairs, at the behest of the ladies who attend faculty meetings there.



From there he led us to the chapel, explaining how it'd recently been renovated and only just lost the yucky smell, a privilege for us.  It had that old church scent of treated wooden pews and ancient incense, smoke and wax burned from liturgical candles.  A stained glass window depicting Saint Christopher was set behind the altar, below which a "wooden thing" had been installed or updated with the repairs.



Across a stone-paved courtyard, he showed us through an opening in the wall and said we could get good views of Christ Church through there.  The garden was empty.  "I'll leave you here," he said.





Caroline said, "Take a picture of me with this giant tree."  To be fair, it was a pretty amazing tree.  A giant.  #treefans

We passed through the doorway into the small walled garden and greeted our host again and asksed him what we should do.  He told us that if anyone stopped us on the way out to say that David let us in.  Then we went through into the stone courtyard



and out again in the street.  We passed through another gate into the main road, past shops, and museums, and the solemn stone faces of medieval buildings.



2 comments:

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    1. If you'd been with us, I'd have shelled out the ten pounds to go into Christ Church. It would have been worth it to see your excitement!

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