Saturday, July 11, 2015

Bodleian Library, Oxford University

Bodleian Library, Oxford 
By coach, we voyaged to Oxford in order to see heaven, otherwise called the Bodleian Library. Oxford is a wonderfully quaint town, slower than the London pace, but still vibrant--and bestowed with more than a few good pubs. 

First order before the tour was coffee, which was found and much appreciated at the Turl Street Kitchen, not far from the front steps of the Bodleian. 

Then, to the heart of the matter: books. 

The Heritage Tour of the Bodleian was conducted by a marvelously knowledgeable guide. As usual with most large institutions, especially the ones accustomed to tourists, we did not actually speak to a librarian, but our guide was more than qualified. The tour, of course, began in the most iconic area of Oxford, the Divinity School, with its vaulted ceiling and heavy doors. (Like a few of the places we tour, this site was included in the Harry Potter films.) Before we actually reached the library, we toured the Divinity School, Convocation House, and Chancellor's court, which were all gorgeously detailed with heavy oak and intricate stonework. 

Divinity School, Bodleian Library
The Divinity School was originally a lecture room, finished in 1488, after 65 years of construction. The process was delayed by lack of funds. Its style is the late English Gothic perpendicular, the ceiling adorned with 455 bosses and amazing detail. 

In similar style, the Convocation House had a false-Gothic ceiling, and oak benches. The room was in democratic purposes and was completed as an addition in 1640 by William Laud. The room is still used in the election of a new University Chancellor and the hiring of poetry professors. Poetry, one must think, is serious business at Oxford. Likewise, the Chancellor's court was a part of the same addition. It was utilized as an extension of the courts in order to deal with the shenanigans of Oxford students, which were boys, typically in their teens. As teenage boys tend to do away from home, they got in trouble, mostly for debt. The court surrendered its powers in the 1970s. 

Currently, Oxford University has 22,000 students and 1.5 billion pounds in expenditures and revenues. The actual University of Oxford is an administrative host to 38 federated colleges. Oxford confers degrees and hosts the departments. Each college has a library, and each academic department has a library, but the Bodleian unites all these. All books are in the Bodleian online catalog, and can be retrieved for study, but it is a centuries old rule that the Bodleian Library is read-only, and no book may leave the library. 

Arts End, Bodleian Library.
Google Images
Arts End, 1610-1612, hosts floor to ceiling shelves, the first in England, and features a gallery where the smaller books were kept. Larger tomes were stored under the gallery, and all were chained and shelved with spines facing in. 

The heart and origin of the Bodleian rests atop the Divinity School, and was built to house the donations of Humphrey Plantagenet. The youngest son of Henry IV was an avid collector and gave part of his collection to the Bodleian. Manuscripts were chained to reading carrels and were not allowed to be removed from the library. Within a century, mass printing had taken hold, and the library was not as heavily used. After that, the Reformation led to the destruction of old manuscripts. Reformers believed them to be of the old Roman order, and superstitious. Although 280 manuscripts were destroyed, 47 still survive, and 12 are back in Oxford. 

Thomas Bodley was the founder of the current library and refurbished it at his own expense in 1602. He added 2500 printed books and a full-time librarian.

After the tour, a suitable pub was found and enjoyed. Other sites visited include Alice's Shop and the Eagle and Child, the pub where C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien discussed their works.

For information, and perhaps a bit of online shopping, visit The Bodleian.

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