Next Entry
Previous Entry

Topical Directory
Day Finder

Cottage Diary
What's New?
Site Map
Contact me!

The Bodleian

This continues a web diary covering my 2004 Sabbatical.
The beginning of the diary may be found by clicking here.

Friday, October 22, 2004
Bodleian Library - Oxford, England

I am sitting inside the Bodleian Library - which is, to my way of thinking, one of the greatest libraries in the world.

Old Bodleian Library - Main Quad
...through the glass doors, show identity to security
up several flights of stairs
past more security
into the Duke Humphrey Reading Room, top floor
Everywhere I look there is dark wood panelling, painted crests, Latin mottos, large windows with more crests etched in stained glass - and row upon row of ancient books. Several people are working quietly in little corners, and at wide, well-lit tables.

The hushed, almost antique environment is mitigated somewhat by the fact that at every table there is also an internet connection.

I am utterly awestruck simply to be here. And well that might be, since getting in is not easy. I was screened, my identification was triple-checked, and nothing at all would have happened if I had not had a signed reference from an established scholar. Then, once it had been issued I had to show my brand new “Reader Card” to a guard, who told me that I must lock up my backpack in the cabinet beside him (I may take my laptop and a few papers into the library in a clear plastic bag which he provided). Then I walked three stories up some ancient stairs to the Duke Humphrey reading room, and went through another gate, showing my Reader Card to another guard. Finally I was taken to a librarian who helped me begin to look for what I need.

Right now, I am waiting for some books to be brought up from the stacks. In this library, you do not get to browse the stacks yourself. You have to “order” something, and it will be fetched for you. Unfortunately, the fetching is taking some time... I ordered certain documents one hour and forty five minutes ago. They have not yet appeared at the librarian’s desk.

And now? There are 23 minutes of battery power left on this computer Foolishly, I didn’t bring my power transformer and cord here today. I certainly will next time, but had thought to save weight in my backpack.

While waiting for the delivery, I have been poring over some lists of history theses published in Great Britain in the 20th Century - and noting those that might lead me to the kind of information I want - particularly an answer to one of my simple questions: in the last years before the English Reformation, did clergy ever get publicly “charged” with ‘concubinage’ - that is, the keeping of a mistress?

You could think of it as an “iceberg” question. clergy were supposed to be celibate, and yet, in the late 15th Century, certain popes had acknowledged children. In England, just before Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell really started pushing the split from Rome, Cardinal Wolsey himself had a mistress and an acknowledged son.

And yet, there is also evidence that many church people sought and expected a high standard of social behaviour from one another. Church courts used to enquire whether people were coming to mass, whether they were living in discord and conflict with one another; indeed whether there was any open lewedness and sexual misconduct among the ordinary folk.

But what about the vicar? Was his celibacy [or lack thereof] a matter for the bishop or the archdeacon to address?

If it was just accepted - if it was just taken for granted that the clergy would have some personal consolations “on the side,” did it set up a condition where other forms of disregard for spiritual and ecclesiastical standards could grow and fester (you know, break a law in one thing, and it is sometimes easier then to break another!)?

Later, back at Ripon College
Well the battery on the computer ran out, and at the very moment it did so, the librarian came to my table with the two books I had asked for. I opened the first one and - Yes!!! - Bull’s Eye! Here was information on my topic! Apparently a person named Peter Marshall in 1990 did a PhD these on “Popular Attitudes towards the Clergy in the early 16th century.” He actually counted the number of cases where clergy were accused of concubinage, and concludes that less than 5% of clergy were so charged. Best of all, he cites references where I myself can look further into the matter.

However, fifteen minutes after the books were on my desk, I had to leave - indeed, leave running. I had gone into Oxford by bus today (two days in a row cycling that strenuous journey would probably have killed me!) and the last bus to Cuddesdon for the day was just about to leave.

I gave the precious volumes back to the librarian - who will hold them for me for a week - and went to catch my bus absolutely on top of the world.

I didn’t care that it took me almost the entire week - and most of today - to gain admission. I had come halfway around the world to study at the Bodleian library, and now, I am doing so. At last! At long last!

Top of Page

Saturday, October 23, 2004
Ripon College Cuddesdon

After all the excitement of actually getting into the Bodleian, I won’t be able to go back for a few days.

Today I do have the time - and even, I suppose, the energy - but the Bodleian is only open in the morning, so it is hardly worth it to cycle in for what would have to be a short session. For one thing, my Reader’s Card only allows me a total of twelve visits. It would be foolish to use up one of them on a quick trip - even if the journey there were not so strenuous.

Tomorrow I will go in to Oxford by car with Nigel and Christine Feaver, to attend the 11:15 AM Eucharist at the Cathedral.

Monday is an official mid-term break, so Nigel has no classes, and has decided to take me and his son-in-law (another Canadian, also named “Tony”!) on a sightseeing trip to a mediaeval village. I wouldn't miss that for the world, so the next trip I will make into the Bodleian will be Tuesday. So be it.

Today has thus been a domestic day and a study day. I caught up with correspondence, worked on this weblog, and read.

Given that Nigel is supposed to be driving me somewhere in the morning, let’s hope that this time I will set my alarm properly, and not be asleep when it is time to go!

Top of Page

Sunday, October 24, 2004
Ripon College Cuddesdon

Suscipe deprecationem nostram - the voices of the choir echoed in the centuries old Cathedral.

I found it ironic to be hearing Latin, and to be surrounded by clergy and servers with flowing vestments, processional crosses and flickering candles.

When the cathedral was devised - by Cardinal Wolsey - this would have been exactly how he envisaged the worship to look. But he fell mightily from power in 1529, with his plans for this combined church and college only half complete, and then died. Henry VIII took over the college, changed the name from “Cardinal College” to “Christ Church College” - and simultaneously unleashed a storm which rid the church of Latin, vestments, and the other trappings of elaborate liturgy.

But all these things are back.

Suscipe deprecationem nostram means “hear our prayer” - and we were deeply at prayer as the music of the choir rang through the building. This church - like many medieval cathedrals - is long and narrow. The people sit in ancient pews facing one another across the narrow aisle. The choir was far away to my left. The altar and the presiding clergy were nearby on my right. During the sermon a toddler laughed and played behind a screen nearby - obviously enjoying the echo, and unaware that at times its powerful little voice was louder than the preacher’s!

I was up bright and early today - I was not going to miss my ride again! So early was I, in fact, that I had almost two hours for prayer and reading before it was time to meet Nigel and Christine. The early state continued when we drove into town - largely because there was no traffic - so we had time to walk about before going into the Cathedral. We went down a beautiful tree-lined path to the river Thames - comparatively small at this point, but fast-flowing - and we watched two Oxford rowing teams at morning practice.

After church, the Feavers had prepared a Sunday Dinner to which they invited me - and I spent a very pleasant afternoon at their flat. Nigel was a probation officer before he felt called - somewhat later in life - to enter training for ordained ministry. Ordination and his first curacy await him in 2005. Christine has a social work position, with several special-needs clients for whom she oversees the gathering of resources.

Living with them in their small college flat is a newly-wed couple - their daughter, Caroline, and her Canadian husband, Tony, an electronics engineer who has chosen to make his life in England.

The evening was spent reading, and learning how to use the Bodleian’s internet catalogue.

Tomorrow, sight-seeing with Nigel and Tony.

Top of Page

Monday, October 25, 2004    (Feast day of Saints Crispin & Crispinian)
Ripon CollegeCuddesdon

What a marvellous day!

St. Mary the Virgin, Ewelme, Oxfordshire
The Chaucer’s Family Church
We went to a small town with the unpronounceable name of Ewelme.

There we found a late-medieval church dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin. Inside, we were surprised and delighted to find tombs of members of the Chaucer family! Evidently, the great poet’s son and grand-daughter were very important personages. (By complete coincidence, today also happens to be the anniversary of Geoffrey Chaucer’s death in the year 1400!)

We walked on high promontories - called, delightfully, “The Clumps” - and enjoyed panoramic views of the upper Thames valley.

We saw a shallow stream used for cultivating watercress. And we had a pleasant cup of coffee in a seemingly ancient pub.

All this took until mid-afternoon.

I then bicycled over to Wheatley to pick up a few groceries - and with dinner and the dishes done, I’m catching up on this weblog.

All in all, a very good day...

Top of Page

Tuesday, October 26, 2004
Ripon College Cuddesdon

It was bright and sunny and cool today - a perfect day to cycle into Oxford and spend several hours in the Bodleian Library.

The journey takes just over an hour, and was completely uneventful - other than that for a while, sitting at my study table, I was very warm from the exertion, and an hour or so later, once I had cooled down, I found myself wishing I had brought my jacket with me up from security.

When the librarians bring you books, they take your membership card (which is, of course, the means by which you get in). This causes some awkwardness, because, if you wish to leave the building to have your bag lunch, you have to take all your books to the desk, get your card back, go out and eat lunch, then re-enter the building, show the security desk your card, go back up to your reading room, give your card to the librarian, retrieve your books, and return to your study table!

I could have done all this of course - and retrieved my jacket too - but I was so absorbed in what I was reading that it seemed like too much of a bother.

In fact, I had to tear myself away at 5:15 p.m.

Why then? Because of the journey by bicycle back out to Cuddesdon! I have not yet ridden the thing at night, and have been quite nervous about the prospect.

What I figured I would do is this: leave the Bodleian as the sun is setting; travel through the city in daylight; out into the country in twilight; up the long hill in increasing dark, and the last half mile to the college in complete night time. This would be, as it were, “practice” for a full night ride.

There are two parts of the journey which worry me - a wooded bicycle path in the city (is it safe after dark?) and the long hill (can I be seen after dark, or will the danger from speeding cars be too great?).

It was still light as I went through the wooded bicycle path. At the other end, in a residential area, a lady - seeming of retirement age - was out walking her dog. I stopped and asked her “Would you mind answering a question for a tourist? Would it be safe for a white-haired old man to cycle through that path after dark?”

“Oh, I wouldn’t recommend it at all, sir. I myself live right at the end of that path, and I never go out after dark meself. It’s right dodgy, it is.”

“Thank you! In Canada, I would have thought such a path would be unsafe also, so I appreciate your information.”

So... if I stay in town after dark, I have to use the brightly lit main streets. That’s okay - except for the traffic. One of the reasons I like the bicycle path is that I don’t have to dodge cars and busses and taxis. But, at night, I’d rather not try dodging the “dodgy” sort that sometimes might lurk in a darkened path!

The next question about late-day cycling was answered for me on the long hill. By the time I got there, it was really dark.

The rented bicycle comes with battery-powered lights - clear in front and red in the rear. Both have a choice of settings: steady beam, and two kinds of “strobe” flashing lights. I was told at the bicycle store that the police discourage the use of the flashing lights, so for the journey through Oxford and through Horspath, I kept them on a steady beam.

At the bottom of the long hill, however, I dismounted, caught my breath, removed my jacket (despite the cool evening temperature, exertion had done it again, and I was once more steaming) - and set the lights to the most dazzling strobe flashing display they could manage. Then I began to pedal upwards in the dark.

The lights seem to have some effect. The onrushing cars that came up behind me - and there were many - slowed, waited until it was really safe to pass, and then went by with care. So many, in fact, did this, that the one or two that barrelled past were very noticeable. Similar caution and courtesy was shown by those cars coming towards me. Not only would they slow down, but I noticed that most would lower their high beam headlights too (and a good thing! Those high beams are blinding!)

When I got to the point when I did not have strength to pedal, I got off and pushed the bicycle - but left its lights flashing. Noticeably, the courteous behaviour continued.

This does not mean that being on an English country highway with a bicycle in the dark is fun and enjoyable! No, I was frightened much of the time, but the fear was not unmanageable.

So, the day will come - and it is not far away - when I shall stay at the Bodleian until nearly six p.m., then go over to Christ Church Cathedral for evensong, and then pedal to Cuddesdon in the dark. Indeed, I might even go back to the Bodleian after Evensong - it stays open until 10:00 p.m. - for a further session with the books! Stay tuned...


Cuddesdon is so very much not in the city! As I sit here in my flat writing, I can hear an owl outside... hooting as it hunts for prey. It’s marvellous, really.

Top of Page

Wednesday, October 27, 2004 Ripon College Cuddesdon

When I woke up today, I just could not, for the life of me, bring myself to make another trip into Oxford.

Instead I have had a quiet time of reading, email to Heather, then later in the day worship, dinner and visiting with the seminary students.

I think that the bicycle journey must be more stressful than I have realized.

When actually doing it, the physical exertion and the avoiding of traffic is at the centre of my concentration. That is all there is.

But there is another dimension to it, one of which I am just becoming aware: the absolute lack of choice.

The Cyclist in England, as evening falls
No option but to complete the journey
What I mean is this: imagine yourself with nothing but a bicycle and five miles of dark and sometimes dangerous road before you. At the end of it, there is a comfortable room, food, warmth, and a nice bed. Where you are however, there are industrial buildings, or closed doors behind which live strangers, and not far ahead, damp fields and prickly hedges.

There is no place to go except the whole distance. Even the homeless would not safely sleep in a wet late October English pasture.

There is no choice. The distance must be pedalled. If it is hard? Keep going. If your breath comes in rasping gasps? Keep going. Warmth and a bed await you at the end. In between? There is no option but to complete the journey.

I think this takes a certain toll on the psyche.

At any rate, for this or for whatever reason, today I didn’t want to leave my comfortable flat - as fascinating and tantalizing as the books and manuscripts in the Bodleian are. Besides, the weather is damp, overcast, cold, and (according to the weather office) 100% chance of rain.

I enjoyed my reading in the life of Thomas, Cardinal Wolsey. And I’m sending Heather by email some of the photos I have taken while I’m here. Although it is purely electronic, and physical closeness would be infinitely better, we are enjoying one another’s company across the wires.

Top of Page

Next: “Magdalen Chapel
Click here to continue...