A Tale of Two Countries: Oxford

Known as the “City of the Dreaming Spires” and home to the oldest university in the English-speaking world, Oxford, England, is like no other place I’ve visited.

Bicycles and weathered stones intertwine the new with the old.

The first landmark we found was Tom Tower. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren, this bell tower serves as the entrance to Christ Church. Christ Church is one of Oxford University’s 38 colleges and is part of the Cathedral of the Oxford diocese. Famous graduates of this college include 13 British prime ministers and Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland.

This punt is on the River Cherwell, a major tributary to the River Thames. We found it while strolling between Christ Church and the Oxford Botanic Garden. If you look closely between the trees, you can see the square Magdalen Tower off in the distance. The landmark is part of Magdalen College, which was founded in 1458. Author C.S. Lewis was elected as a fellow and tutor in English literature at Magdalen in 1925.

North of Christ Church on Queen Street is St. Martin’s Tower. Also called the Carfax Tower, it is 74-feet tall and includes a clock with two bells that chime every quarter of an hour.

This is Broad Street.

On Broad Street is the Sheldonian Theatre, also designed by Sir Christopher Wren and built in the 1660s.

The Sheldonian Theatre is the University of Oxford’s official ceremonial hall, so activities like graduation happen there.

Just across the street is Blackwell’s Bookshop, where I purchased a hardback pocket edition of C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

(Please note: The title does NOT include an Oxford comma, even though the book was written by a professor and graduate of Oxford University, was published in Great Britain and was sold in Oxford at the UK’s largest academic bookstore. Therefore, as a former copyeditor, I now rest my case that the Oxford comma is optional most of the time.)

Another remarkable building situated between Broad Street and High Street is the Radcliffe Camera. It was built in 1737 and is a notable library only open to Oxford students.

 

This is the courtyard of Lincoln College, which was founded in 1427 and is the ninth oldest college of Oxford University. The ivy here is in a league of its own.

Isn’t the size of this ivy’s “trunk” amazing? I wonder if it has been growing since the 1400s.

The dining hall at Lincoln features a portrait of theologian John Wesley, founder of Methodism. Wesley was a fellow at Lincoln College from 1726 to 1751. We also found his name etched in the glass doors to the chapel.

Nearby is the University Church of St. Mary. There’s been a church on this site since Anglo-Saxon times. St. Mary’s is where, in 1555, the Oxford martyrs Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley and Thomas Cranmer were tried for treason. It’s also where C.S. Lewis delivered his outstanding sermon “The Weight of Glory” in 1941.

This stone monument is the Martyrs’ Memorial, located just around the corner from a cross set in Broad Street, which marks the actual scene of the martyrdom.

Besides the statues of Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer, the monument features an inscription that reads: “To the Glory of God, and in grateful commemoration of His servants, Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer, Prelates of the Church of England, who near this spot yielded their bodies to be burned, bearing witness to the sacred truths which they had affirmed and maintained against the errors of the Church of Rome, and rejoicing that to them it was given not only to believe in Christ, but also to suffer for His sake; this monument was erected by public subscription in the year of our Lord God, MDCCCXLI.” 

Just down the street from the Martyrs’ Memorial is The Eagle and Child, where C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and the other Inklings met every Tuesday to discuss their writing projects.

In honor of C.S. Lewis, who once said he could never get a book long enough or a cup of tea large enough to suit him, I ordered a large cup of Earl Grey tea.

It was such an honor to sip tea and talk about books with our lovely friend and extraordinary tour guide, MariAnne.

Seated in the top front seats of a double-decker bus, we left Oxford with hope that someday we’ll return for more adventures in this historic city.

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