November 27 – A Walk to visit Christ Church College and Cathedral

The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland

Hello from 1066 – A Medieval Mosaic

In the early afternoon, Mike and I walked into Oxford along the river Thames walkway. We made really good time taking only about 30 minutes. We particularly wanted to go to Christ Church to visit the cathedral and hall inside the college. We arrived at 2 pm and joined one other lady to have a guided tour of the cathedral.

Tim Giles, our tour guide, was particularly interested in the history of the cathedral starting with St Frideswide then Charles 1, Thomas Wolsey, Henry V111 and then also literature history.

St. Frideswide was born to Didan, the King of Oxford and his wife Seafrida around AD 650’s. She wanted to become a nun and with the support of her father, she founded a priory, St Frideswide’s Priory. Aethelbald, a Mercian king wanted to marry her even though she was bound to celibacy. When Frideswide refused, he tried to abduct her. She ran away to hide but Aethelbald followed her relentlessly. The people would not tell him where Frideswide was. Frideswide prayed to be delivered and Aethelbald was struck blind by a lightning bolt. He said if she would heal him that he would leave her alone and she did this. Frideswide’s prayers brought forth a healing spring at St Margaret’s well in Binsey, whose waters cured his blindness, and the spring was walled into a shallow well which became a focus for pilgrimage. Frithswide remained abbess of the Oxford monastery, where she was later buried, until her death in about 727.

The cathedral was later built on the same site and the Latin chapel contains her shrine. The shrine was installed in the church in 1289 but broken up in 1538 during the Reformation when devotion to saints was heavily criticised. Parts of the shrine were found in a well in the nineteenth century and restored to the church, a second reconstruction was then made in 2002. The chapel also has an amazing stained glass window of Frideswide’s life by Edward Burne-Jones, a Pre-Raphelite, which for me was the highlight of the day. St Frideswide (Frithuswith) is the patron saint of Oxford. She is also the patron saint of Oxford University. Her feast day is 19 October, the traditional day of her death.

Thomas Wolsey (c. March 1474 – 29 November 1530) was an English churchman, statesman and a cardinal of the Catholic Church. When Henry VIII became King of England in 1509, Wolsey became the King’s almoner. Wolsey’s affairs prospered, and by 1514 he had become the controlling figure in nearly all matters of state as well as being extremely powerful within the Church, as Archbishop of York, second only to the Archbishop of Canterbury. His appointment in 1515 as a cardinal by Pope Leo X gave him precedence over all other English clerics. Thomas Wolsey finally lost favour with Henry VIII after he was able to obtain a divorce from Catherine of Aragon. Wolsey, the son of a butcher in Oxford, was very clever and attended Merton College in Oxford. He became very rich in his own right and he built The King’s School in Ipswich and also built Hampton Court in London. He also built Cardinal College in Oxford which later became King’s College and then Christ Church.

Charles I (19 November 1600 – 30 January 1649) was monarch of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 27 March 1625 until his execution in 1649. Charles 1 was not well liked and during his quarrel with the parliament, as he believed in the divine right of kings, was forced to leave London. He took refuge in Oxford and Christ Church where he created the King’s Oxford Parliament in January 1644 which placed Oxford at the centre of the Cavalier cause and the city became the headquarters of the King’s forces.

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (27 January 1832 – 14 January 1898), better known by his pen name Lewis Carroll, was an English writer, mathematician, logician, Anglican deacon, and photographer. He told the story of Alice in Wonderland to the three daughters of the Henry Liddell, the dean of Christ Church basing the story on various characters in and about the university. The White Rabbit was based on the Dean, who was always late. In fact, it was not until 1841 that the UK adopted the standardized time of Greenwich Mean Time. Until then each area had its own time depending on the number of minutes away from London. Oxford was 5 minutes later and Christ Church still adheres to this time so while all the other colleges of the Oxford Universty eat their evening meal at 7.15 at Christ Church it is eaten at 7.20. Victorian painter and critic John Ruskin was the inspiration for the caterpillar, a very pompous character. The Mad Hatter was based on the owner of a furniture shop in 1851 who invented an alarm clock bed that threw you out of bed when the alarm went off. He also apparently wore a top hat with all the invoices of his debtors. When he saw someone who owed him some money he would whip out the invoice from his hat and rush after the person. Charles Dodgson also included himself in the story as the dodo as he had a stutter, and so would introduce himself as “Do-Do-Do-Dodgson.

When we visited the Great Hall, where all the meals of the college take place, the stained glass windows were all made by Patrick Reyntiens in 1985 and one of these includes the Alice in Wonderland characters while the others are all past students or Deans of Christ College. The Great Hall and the stairs leading up to it are both scenes from Harry Potter. In the Harry Potter movies, there are four houses and so needed four rows of dining room tables. The Great Hall is too narrow for this as it only fits 3 rows. The film crew went away and built a full-size replica of the Hall in which to film. Outside the Hall is a larger than life seated statue of Cyril Jackson, Dean of Christ Church in 1783. So much history both old and new and so many famous people who have walked these hallowed halls.

When we left we were going to visit the National Gallery Portrait Gallery but it was only open for a further 20 minutes so we left it for another time. We visited the Alice in Wonderland shop and also a second hand and rare bookshop. It seemed to be specialising in church history. Mike asked if they had The Ecclesiastical History of England by Oderic Vitalis as if any shop was going to have it then this one would. Sadly they did not have it and the search continues.

By then the light was very faded and we walked along the towpath back to Donnington at a brisk pace before it was completely pitch black. A brilliant day all around.