Saturday, January 9, 2010

Day 96: Queen's College Library

While touring Oxford with my husband, we happened upon one of Oxford's splendors: Queen's College Library.

Before visiting the college, I had only seen the outside of Queen's. It looks much like a fortress. Once past the strict porters (I have to show my "Bod card," or Bodleian Library card to enter the snootier colleges and sometimes to avoid the fees that can be charged tourists), we entered the main quad and into their cloisters. Impressive. Built by Christopher Wren's follower, Henry Alrich (they think) in 1692-1695. Now lest you think that is when Queen's was built originally, don't be fooled. Most of the older colleges here were founded in the 12th, 13th, or 14th Centuries, then founded again in the 17th Century. I don't know what "founded again" means, but my guess is that was when money was given anew to rebuild the college in greater splendor.

But the front quad was nothing in comparison to the library, or Upper Library. Imagine if you can row after row of hand-crafted wooden shelves jutting into a wide aisle filled with 13th-17th Century volumes on history, religion, literature, and science--most of them what we would consider "oversized" and in Latin. In the wide aisle are three 17th Century massive leather globes that mimic the rotation around the sun, still in working condition. Above the shelves on either side are high, arched windows, those at the far end of the room contain beautiful stained glass. The ceiling is not only molded plaster with the typical angels and emblems of the college, but has perhaps a 30-foot diameter gold-plated, multi-pronged star. The overall affect is breathtaking. Even better than my three other favorite libraries at Oxford and Cambridge--All Soul's here at Oxford, Christopher Wren's masterpiece at Trinity College at Cambridge, and my own smaller but still lovely library here at Lady Margaret. The only improvement I would seek would be to raise the window shades which blocked much-needed light from filling the room.

My husband was surprised most by the sheer number of volumes that existed as of the 17th Century. Of course, by then the Gutenberg Press was operable, and volumes had begun being printed. But they still had an impressive collection of illuminated volumes (handwritten volumes with the first letter of a page or chapter larger with pictures surrounding it) that were pre-Gutenberg era.

I felt just a tinge of jealousy for the two scholars who had apparently taken up residence there. Lucky fellows.

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