Tuesday, July 3, 2007

An Informal Lecture at the Divinity School

Classes have begun at Oxford University and I couldn't be more delighted with the rigorous style of education here. Our professors don't simply give us books to read but are constantly offering recommendations of supplementary materials. We don't simply read Hamlet, we become scholars of the play, the social context in which it was written, the critical writings that followed the play, and Shakespeare himself. It's not an overbearing an intimidating push to read more or take the initiative to take on independent research, but a limitless perception of education that's sort of taken as a matter of fact. The libraried (most of the time from the countryside where many books are stored) within a day. People here appreciate learning and it's obvious from talking to my well spoken professors that even though they know they can never master knowledge, they have an inner pull that draws them toward a life vested in learning. It might be the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.

I just returned from a lecture and walk through part of Oxford with my History of Oxford Architecture class. We began the class with a lecture and ended with a walk through New College (Originally named The College of Saint Mary) and the Divinity School.

Built in 1379, New College is one of the oldest college in Oxford. Obviously privately funded, it has an exorbitant amount of money (and they charge a pound just to walk inside). It's beautiful. Here are a few pictures followed by explanation.

This is the interior of the cloisters (used for reflection and sometimes studying) at New College. Some may recognize this from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Another view, this time from inside the cloisters.

Oxford University was originally built where it was not only because it was a central location for trade and prime location right along the river Thames, but also because at the time that it was built, Oxford was one of the biggest cities in Britain. Like many cities at the time, there was a wall that surrounded Oxford. When New College was built they had an agreement with the city to keep the town's wall intact. New College did just that, and has continued to preserve the wall today, making it the most significant chunk of preserved wall still around. This is that wall, which is situated by a garden.

This is the New College chapel, which pictures seem to muddle and words can't describe.

A closer view of the original stained glass of the saints and the ornate ornamentation.

Under the seats there are wood carvings of grotesque figures, sort of representing the conflicting thoughts of people at the time. One one hand the people were supposed to look upon God at all times. On the other hand, even the chapel had these sort of vulgar and crass joke-like carvings.

After leaving New College we headed over to the Divinity School, the oldest surviving lecture hall ever. Our professor sat us down and we learned a ton about the hall itself. The Divinity School was a lecture hall but also the place where final examinations took place. At the time final exams were all given orally and a student was given their degree based on their responses to oral exams. At the time it became extremely popular, as a civilian, to attend these oral exams. Therefore, they set up the room to accommodate people who wanted to watch the scholars take their final exams.

Built by the university rather than one of the colleges, it took nearly twenty years to get the funding just for the foundation of Divinity School. The hall was initially built with a wooden roof but later a donor came and offered to donate the funds to build a Gothic style vaulted roof. You'll see closeups and an awesome narrative about the roof below.

This is a general view that I feel reflects the vastness of the lecture hall.

It's difficult to see here but the points of the ceilings and places where the ribbed vaults meet have carvings of many different things. Not only are there religious carvings, but there's a coat of arms for the king and the initials of many former scholars and alumni. Prior to rebuilding what was formerly a wooden roof all the alumni had to agree to the change. As a result, the new construction kind of honored everyone with their initials.

Having a historian professor take us on the tour was amazing. I have seven more meetings of touring Oxford so more nerdy history stuff will probably come soon.

Ecstatic for the opportunity to attend more classes and forced to start getting dressed up to attend a lecture and formal dinner, I'd best get running. I wish you all a wonderful day though, and I will write when I can.

Until then take a listen to this jewel by clicking the link and then pressing play on the jukebox at the top: Nate Mott - "Bitter Wine"


Jaclyn Muns said...

sounds incredible! keep the stories and updates coming...oh, and the awesome music selections :)