Sunday, October 13, 2013

Day 26 - Oxford, Shakespeare and the Cotswolds

The rain did put a bit of a damper on our progress through Oxford and the Cotswolds, but the sun started to peak out when we were leaving Stratford-upon-Avon.

Harris Manchester College
Our guide, Paul, is a student at the Harris Manchester College in Oxford University.  He gave us a tour of the city and spoke a little about what it was like to be a student at Oxford.  To be a member of the university, all students, and most academic staff, must also be a member of a college or hall. There are 38 colleges in the University of Oxford and six Permanent Private Halls, each controlling its membership and with its own internal structure and activities. Not all colleges offer all courses, but they generally cover a broad range of subjects.

Harris Manchester is one of very few mixed-sex higher education colleges whose undergraduate places are exclusively for mature students (aged 21 or over, Paul is 25). It is also the smallest of the constituent full colleges of the University of Oxford.

There can be an intense rivalry between the various colleges of the university, and therefore pranks between them are both common and expected.

All Souls College
One of the constituent colleges, All Souls, is unique in that all of its members automatically become Fellows, i.e., full members of the College's governing body. It has no undergraduate members, but each year recent graduates of Oxford and other universities compete in "the hardest exam in the world" for Examination Fellowships.  Despite the prestige of All Souls, the Fellows of the college do have a sense of humor.  Paul reported that they'd take an applicant, who believed he or she was still being examined, out to dinner and request the individual eat a banana with a knife and fork.

Even the Presidents of the colleges are not above pulling pranks, from what we were told. For many years, there has been a traditional and fierce rivalry shown between the students of Trinity and those of its immediate neighbor to the west, Balliol College.

In college folklore, the rivalry goes back to the late 17th century, when Ralph Bathurst, President of Trinity, was supposedly observed throwing stones at Balliol's windows.  However, Oxford's history has a darker side to it as well.  One of the most famous violent confrontations between town and gown was the Battle of St. Scholastica Day, an altercation that occurred on February 10, 1355 in the Swindlestock Tavern (where a bank now stands) between two students of the University of Oxford, Walter Spryngeheuse and Roger de Chesterfield, and the taverner, John Croidon. The students complained about the cloudiness of the ale they were served, which led to an exchange of rude words that ended with the students throwing their drinks in the taverner's face and assaulting him.

St. Scholastica Day Clash
Retaliation for this incident led to armed clashes between locals and students, which escalated until two thousand students pitted themselves against two thousand town people in a protracted two-day battle in which local citizens armed with bows attacked the academic village, killing and maiming 63 scholars, with 30 locals dead as well.

The rioters were severely punished, and thenceforth, the Mayor and Bailiffs had to attend a Mass for the souls of the dead every St. Scholastica's Day thereafter and to swear an annual oath to observe the university's privileges. The dispute was eventually settled in favour of the University, when a special charter was created. Annually thereafter, on 10 February the saint's day of St Scholastica, the Mayor and councillors had to march bareheaded through the streets and pay to the university a fine of one penny for every scholar killed.  For nearly 500 years, Oxford observed a day of mourning for the tragedy until 1825 when the mayor refused to take part.

Another dark moment in Oxford's history concerns three Anglican bishops who were tried for heresy in 1555 and burnt at the stake in for their religious beliefs and teachings under the reign of Queen Mary, daughter of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon, who is also known in history as "Bloody Mary."

Thomas Cranmer at the stake
 The three martyrs were the Anglican bishops Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley and Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury.  The three pious men were tried at University Church of St Mary the Virgin, the official church of Oxford University on the High Street and imprisoned at the former Bocardo Prison in Cornmarket Street. The door of their cell is on display in the tower of the church.

The bishops were executed just outside the city walls to the north, where Broad Street is now located. Latimer and Ridley were burnt on 16 October 1555. Cranmer was burnt five months later on 21 March 1556.

Martyrs' Memorial

A small area cobbled with stones forming a cross in the center of the road outside the front of Balliol College marks the site. The Victorian spire-like Martyrs' Memorial, at the south end of St Giles' nearby, commemorates the events. It is claimed that the scorch marks from the flames can still be seen on the doors of Balliol College.

We'll be staying in tomorrow because of the broken bed, so I'll post more about our trip and add some photographs then.  Until then, goodnight.

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