Monday, March 23, 2009

Trinity College Library

Libraries have a mystical hold over Craig. On a tour of Oxford's Trinity College arranged for us by the Chaplain of the college (who happens to be the wife of the principal of Ripon College Cuddesdon where we are staying) we were privileged to learn about the history of the College and to go into Trinity's library and archives. The central quadrangle of buildings of Trinity College, founded by Sir Thomas Pope in the 16th century already existed in the form of Durham College, which from 1286 until the Reformation provided a place of study in Oxford for monks sent from the Benedictine Cathedral Church at Durham. The Library of Trinity was seeded by Durham's collection and most of this is housed in the old library.

Walking under archways and through courtyards, we came to the modern library. As Craig climbed the staircase leading to the door, his face was like a child's at Christmas time, full of anticipation and excitement.  The main floor was surrounded by a two story stack. Short staircases and narrow galleries extended the book collection far up onto the walls. Sitting at the desks, the students had that fatigued end of term look. When we were taken to the oldest part of the library housed in the oldest building in the college the first room we entered was disappointingly utilitarian - pale colored wooded bookcases, the books locked away behind wire screens so thoroughly obscuring the shelf we weren't even sure there were books. But after we exchanged niceties with the man cataloging archives (after 6 or 7 centuries) we came to the door to the old library.

When it opened, my first impression was of dimness, special blue window shades having been pulled down to protect the books from the effects of light. Then I had the sense of extreme orderliness and regularity despite the various widths and heights of the volumes, each shelf neatly arranged, no book protruding over another, no book receding between its neighbors. No frayed bindings or crumpled edges here, either. The volumes with their leather bindings gave the room a uniformity of appearance. The shelves of books marched down the room toward the arched window at the end. The cases extended from the high ceiling to a floor of wide dark and polished wooden planks worn smooth as silk, dipping slightly in the middle of the room with the weight of the volumes that had been there for centuries.

With the librarian Craig was allowed to take down one or two of the volumes. With his usual uncanny talent for picking the right book off the shelf, found a tall slim volume, about the size of an atlas of - Hakluytus posthumus, or, Purchas his Pilgrimes : contayning a history of the world in sea voyages and lande travells by Englishmen and others - chronicling the early explorations and voyages that have interested him for so many years.

After a lovely, but definitely not healthy lunch with some of the fellows of the college and a walk through gardens full of daffodils and crocuses, flowering apples, pear and hawthorn trees, and the special Fritillaries of which the Oxford area is so justifiably proud, we came back to Ripon College, a beautiful spot in its own right. We just let things soak in for the rest of the day which was beautiful and sunny.

1 comment:

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