The buildings that surround the Bodleian Library – the 17th century Sheldonian Theatre designed by Sir Christopher Wren; the early 18th century Clarendon Building, one-time home to the Oxford University Press and the early 20th century Bridge of Sighs, inspired by its much more famous Venetian namesake – are all fascinating pieces of architecture in their own right. However it’s the main Bodleian Library building itself that is truly magnificent and is without question my favourite of all the places we visited in Oxford.
The Old School Quadrangle completed in 1619, is simply one of the most atmospheric and evocative buildings I have ever had the pleasure to experience. Standing in the middle of the quad it just felt natural to imagine what it must have been like some 400 years ago as a privileged young boy scurrying across the courtyard from one school to another. The subjects taught in each of the schools can still be seen today painted above each of the doorways around the quad – they represent the curriculum of the early 17th century – the seven Liberal Arts (Logic, Grammar, Rhetoric, Arithmetic, Astronomy, Geometry and Music); the Philosophies and Languages. Those particularly gifted (or fortunate) scholars went on to study one of the three higher academic callings – Law, Medicine and most importantly of all – Divinity.
The Divinity School, begun in 1424 and apparently taking 60 years to complete, is a masterpiece of late-Gothic architecture – with quite possibly the most stunning ceiling I think I have ever seen – an elaborate, yet perfect design incorporating vaults, pendants and no fewer than 455 bosses. I could have quite happily stayed there for hours just looking up at a little piece of stone-carved heaven, probably getting a stiff neck as a result….but believe me it would have been worth it. The two photos below don’t really do it justice! Incidentally, the School of Divinity has been used as a film location on a number of occasions – most famously perhaps as the Hogwarts’ Infirmary in the Harry Potter movies.
Above the Divinity School, is the famous Duke Humfrey’s Library built between 1444 and 1488 and originally designed to house manuscripts only. Unfortunately it quickly fell into disuse and neglect until it was restored by Thomas Bodley (hence the name Bodleian) in the late 16th century. Photography is not allowed inside the library itself, so you won’t find any shots of the interior in the group above.
The Bodleian, as one of six copyright libraries in the UK and Ireland, is obliged to house a copy of every book, pamphlet, magazine and newspaper published in Britain. As you can imagine that requires an awful lot of ever-expanding storage space. Consequently the Bodleian Library now encompasses nine sites throughout the city (some connected by a network of underground tunnels) as well as a host of facilities outside of Oxford itself.
If you ever find yourself in the tragic position of only having a couple of hours to spend in Oxford, and you’re trying to decide out of all the wonderful attractions which you should visit with your precious time and hard-earned cash – then to me it has to be the brilliant Bodleian Library…..:0).
Copyright: © The Photography of Mark Simms (2012). All rights reserved.