Friday, 20 July 2007

Thursday: Oxford & Bodleian Library

I love Oxford. Even though we went before, I still love this town. (Being from Columbus, I think I have a soft-spot in my heart for college-towns.)

We took the Tube to Paddington station and then a train from Paddington to Oxford. I love trains. They make me sleepy and you can stare out the window at the countryside. I've noticed that most of the farm animals here are pretty lazy. The horses, sheep and cattle are usually laying down for some reason. They can't ALL be sick, can they?

At any rate, we had a guided tour (as a class) of the Bodleian Library. I was REALLY excited for this tour.
We started off in the Divinity School, which is the oldest part of the college and built in 1420. You can tell it was originally a theological institution, as the room itself is incredibly ornate. If you're a Harry Potter fan, you may recognize this room as being the Infirmary at Hogwarts, AND Professor Madonagal's (sp?) Ballroom Dancing School. This room took 65 years to complete.

As you can see in this picture, this room was used for examination, mainly what we would call "defending dissertations" today. The student would sit in the corner, the professor across from him, arguing his research findings. A Regent's Master would sit in the middle (right behind my head) and act as a "judge" of sorts to keep things in line. All oral examinations were in Latin, and they could take hours or days to complete. Students who attended Oxford did not study only one area, they were required to become masters of all areas: Mathematics, Juris Prudence (law), Philosophy, and Medicine. Yikes!

This particular room's ceiling is a celebration of the contributors to the building itself, as it took so long to build because the school was continually running out of money. In addition, because of the constant back and forth between Protestantism and Catholicism, the windows (used the be stained glass) were destroyed. The crucifix above the door is gone. A sculpture of St. Peter (in the ceiling) was decapitated. In 1424, they began building the second level of this Divinity School, which became the library. The library itself didn't open until 1602 when it was finished.
The vaulted ceilings in one of the more recent rooms (This is the convocation house) were created to help support the upper level library. So though they are ornate and beautiful, they do have a purpose. The room seen here is the Convocation house, where administrators and faculty would meet. The throne in the middle was created for the Chancellor. And apparently, when the plague was ravaging London (around 1620), Parliament would meet in this room. Very cool.

Upstairs I was able to STAND IN THE BODLEIAN LIBRARY which was basically torture. Of course no one is allowed to touch any of the books, and of course you have to have a reader's card, and a specific explanation for whatever it is you're looking for. I mean, I highly doubt someone's going to hand over a manuscript I'd like to peruse that was written in the 1350s. Jeesh.

The strangest thing I noticed immediately was the shelving of the books, which were spine-in. Apparently, the books were previously chained to the shelves themselves so no one could check anything out. They still have a sample of what this looked like. And of course I couldn't take any pictures of the books. And for some reason I'm having a hard time finding images on google (or their website) to show you here. So you'll just have to wait until I get back with my informational guidebook of the library. (Or, if you're interested in Oxford in general, there's a picture gallery here.) But you can take my word for it. The ceiling of this library is all wooden panels, and no two are identical. They all have different colors of open books (which is the bottom of Oxford) on them, and each read (in Latin) "Lord is my Life". There are 9 satellite Bodleian libraries, some of which you may check out books, but of course this is a reference-only institution.

Some of the benefactors to the library include: the Rockefeller foundation (1933), Oliver Cromwell (1654), Kenneth Grahame (the Wind in the Willows proceeds after his death went to the Bodleian).

We then trekked to the Radcliffe Camera, which is a round building with two reading rooms (Upper and Lower levels). This building opened in 1749 but wasn't owned by the Bodleian until 1860. This place was breathtaking. I wanted to lay in the middle of the floor and read a book or just look at the dome-ceiling. The Bodleian's conveyor belt (materials handling system) beneath the library delivers the books to readers in either of these two levels. Again, no pictures of the inside, so sorry folks. BUT- Phillip Pullman's The Golden Compass book is being turned into a movie called Northern Lights. And it was JUST filmed in this building, the Radcliffe Camera.

We then walked beneath the Camera underground through the tunnel to where they house the REALLY valuable stuff. (J Floor, if you're ever interested in stealing incredibly valuable books). The conveyor belt system is hilarious-- as it was installed in 1940 (talk about forward-thinking!) and it looks incredibly archaic, but still works wonderfully.

So we ended our trip to the library, and had the rest of the day to Oxford. I ended up shopping because things are much cheaper in the smaller towns surrounding London. I ended up getting stationery (I really need to stop buying paper's starting to get ridiculous) and trinkets for people back home. Oh, AND a pair of jeans and a jacket. And jewelry. Okay so I bought a lot of things, but it was totally worth it and I don't feel bad about it at all.
I have more pictures of Oxford and I look forward to sharing them all with you when I get home. I can't believe this trip is halfway over already!

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