Monday, March 24, 2008

Towers and Spires

Our Cambridge/London/Oxford excursion was an adventure. I'm glad it's over, only because I was quite anxious about all the logistics for 14 of us--which pretty much came off without a hitch (well, a couple of hitches, but nothing too major). I think the students really enjoyed being in the big city last week. They've been enjoyed York, but I think visiting London at the halfway point meant they were ready for a change, and perhaps will also have new appreciation for York when we get back, too. A number of them enjoyed at least one musical or play, and a couple of the major football fans actually scored tickets to the huge Tottenham v. Arsenal game (bringing home some great stories about the adventure). The students are now on the Easter/Spring break, headed off to various parts of England and Europe. After a few intensive days with them, I find I miss them and, kicking into parental mode, am just a bit worried about them. I'll look forward to seeing them back in York in a couple weeks.

Thursday was our day in Oxford. Dee and the kids headed back to York, so I was a bachelor for the day. The weather was cold and windy, unfortunately, but dry at least. We enjoyed a guided tour by one of my former colleagues whose son is on the trip. He did his M.Phil. at Oxford and so could give us a bit of an insider overview. We went into Magdalen College (home to both Oscar Wilde and C.S. Lewis), as well as Christ Church (home to Ruskin, but perhaps now more famous for the dining hall which was transformed into Hogwarts' hall for the Harry Potter movies). After the tour, I first made a beeline to the Ashmolean to see the Pre-Raphaelite collection, but that section of the gallery was closed. (On Friday, however, I got to enjoy the Tate Britain's collection once again.) After the Ashmolean disappointment, I paused for a cream tea, then made my way to the famous Blackwell's bookshop. It's humble facade doesn't do justice to the vast stores of books inside--including a floor of used book. Fabulous. I treated myself to three books: the Oxford Classics edition of Walter Pater's Renaissance (which I've been looking for everywhere), Orwell's early novel, Keep the Aspidistra Flying, and a collection of poems by Yorkshire poet, Ted Hughes.

I perused these over Indian food for dinner and then made my way to St. Mary's, the university church and epicentre of the Oxford Movement led by Pusey, Keble and Newman. We've been studying the Oxford Movement in my course at York so it was a special kind of pilgrimmage to be able to worship where they did. I was there for a Maundy Thursday service which was a Last Supper service followed by the Stripping of the Altars--a closing part of the service where the congregation antiphonally reads the messianic lament Psalm 22 while the priests and deacons strip the altar of all ornaments, banners, and colors in anticipation of Good Friday, leaving in silence. A very simple but moving service. Indeed, given that the Oxford Movement so celebrated the Gothic, one is struck by just how simple, even dark and puritanical, the space is in St. Mary's. It seemed very fitting, however, for an evening service looking ahead to the darkness of Good Friday and Holy Saturday.

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