Seen from a distance you soon see why this ancient seat of learning is justly named the ‘City of dreaming spires’. But Oxford is also a city of dreams and dreamers.
“This winter-eve is warm,
Humid the air; leafless, yet soft as spring,
The tender purple spray on copse and briers;
And that sweet City with her dreaming spires,
She needs not June for beauty’s heightening,
Lovely all times she lies, lovely to-night!”
From ‘Thyrsis’ by Matthew Arnold
‘I have a dream’
Without dreams and dreamers the world cannot change for the better. We all need to dream. The City of Oxford has been full of them. The founding fathers of the colleges had vision of the benefits of an established seat of learning to carry on the work of the early monasteries. Over the years thousands of graduates are grateful for the influence of this historic place upon their lives.
Oxford’s streets echo with history. As we pass by ancient college gateways the worn stone paving and smoothed woodwork show the mark of age. We wonder, ‘who passed over these thresholds while they were students here and what dreams and new ideas were born in these college rooms?’ Lists of former students read like a ‘who’s who’ of history including the good and the great, as well as the not so good and not so great!
Today the University thrives as a world renowned seat of learning, the second oldest in the world, Not surprisingly it’s a city of bicycles, so watch out crossing the traffic! Town and gown throng the narrow streets.
An American visitor is reputed to have asked how one college’s lawns looked so perfect. The gardener replied that they were regularly mown.
“Is that all you do?” asked the tourist.
“Yes, Sir,” came the reply “we just mow them and roll them- for 500 years!”
Christ Church College
Ancient traditions still continue as in this college which was founded in 1546. The college chapel serves as the Cathedral of my own home diocese of Oxford.
If you are out in the streets nearby at 9.00 pm you will hear the sound of the college’s Great Tom tower bell tolling 101 times. Traditionally this was at 12 midnight to warn the 101 original students of the college that the gates were being closed.
City of Literary Dreams
There have been plenty of dreamers, even at serious and studious Christ Church College where Charles Dodgson was inspired to write his ‘Alice’ stories. Alice’s shop can still be found in St Aldate’s Street. There is also an ‘Alice window’ in the dining hall of the college.
..” she (Alice) was in a little dark shop, leaning with her elbows on the counter, and opposite to her was an old Sheep, sitting in an arm-chair knitting, and every now and then leaving off to look at her through a great pair of spectacles.”
from ’”Through the Looking Glass”.
Another place of ‘Literary’ interest must be mentioned –the ‘Kilns’, home of C.S. Lewis and now a museum and study centre. Of all the modern Oxford dreamers Lewis and the other members of the ‘Inklings’ must take pride of place. That small group of dons and academics met together into the early hours discussing their ideas and writings. This group became a fountain of creative and imaginative writing including Tolkein’s ‘Ring’ trilogy, C.S. Lewis’s ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ and much else. Of Lewis’s other books the most readable and popular must be his ‘Mere Christianity‘ based on his BBC talks on Christian Faith. There is an inspiring series of seminar talks on the ‘Inklings’ by Malcolm Guite on You tube.
There’s a peaceful side to the busy city in the stillness of the world famous Bodleian Library, the Ashmolean Museum (the oldest in Europe), and the Natural History and Pitt Rivers Museums. Oxford offers an immense amount of interest to the visitor. Not least are the University Botanic Gardens, the oldest in the world.
With all this history packed in the small city it’s no wonder that Oxford is crowded with overseas tourists. I’m so privileged to have been associated with the city over the years. I hope it has made me a ‘dreamer’ too.
Featured Image at top – Steve Daniels – Creative Commons Licence.