Should I feel guilty about liking England more than Italy? I feel like a terrible graduate of the renowned School of Foreign Service; wasn’t it supposed to make me a citizen of the world, indifferent to the inefficiencies and cultural differences between the Anglos and the Continentals? I’m half-Italian and almost-half-Cornish; I suppose the WASPy predisposition doesn’t leave a girl even if she goes Rome.
It feels so good to be back in Oxford. I know it’s a combination of being in a familiar place and a familiar culture and having already seen most everything we wanted to see when we were here two weeks ago, so we can relax guilt-free. But I still think this place is full of magic and today was no exception.
We had no commitments until 1:00pm today, so Therese got a morning nap in her crib and Christopher putzed around the AirBnB happily while I ran out for a coffee at Costa. Cowley is a cute suburb with cool shops and restaurants on the main road. I wish I had gone to a local coffee shop but Costa takes cards for small purchases so oh well.
Once Therese woke up, we got ready to meet Br. Toby at Blackfriars. Our friends had set us up with him for a tour of the chapel and the priory and it was delightful. He was very smiley and excited about showing us around. The Dominicans have been in England since 1221, even before St. Dominic had died! The Reformation was not kind to Dominicans at Oxford, so they had no official presence from around Henry VIII until 1922, when a wealthy American donated the money for the Dominicans to build a priory again. The chapel was built in a gothic style, with the exception of the low ceiling. Br. Toby said this low roof was St. Dominic’s preferred style because it was good for preaching. Indeed it is meet and right for the Order of Preachers to have a chapel built for preaching.
The Stations plaques were created by a former socialist atheist who converted to Catholicism through reading the Church’s social teaching. Br. Toby said the artist wanted to emphasize the injury sin does not only to God but to the self. His figures of the Roman soldiers and of pilots are grotesque. Br. Toby pointed out that the Stations in the chapel predate Tolkien and since Tolkien attended Mass at Blackfriars, he might have been thinking of these figures when he wrote about the orcs. They looked quite orcish and one could imagine him taking in the stations before walking down the street to the Eagle & Child for a pint with the Inklings, including Dominican Fr. Gervase Mathew.
Br. Toby took us through the public spaces of the Priory and the garden. It was a lovely space and our affection for the Dominicans continues to grow. Br. Toby told us he’ll join Fr. Cassian in Rome this coming year, a pleasing thought.
After the tour, we needed some food, so we walked up the road to The Royal Oak, a pub Jon and Laura recommended. I had a very tasty burger and Chris had fish & chips. The pub smelled like leather. It was delightful.
Next, we walked to Jon and Laura’s place. Laura graciously invited me to join her for high tea at Quod on High Street while the men played with the kids. We had a fun and relaxing time without the kids and the little finger foods and opportunity for uninterrupted conversation were irresistible.
We reunited with the men and Chris and I took the kids to Mass at Blackfriars. We saw a couple from Notre Dame who go to Byzantine liturgy with us on campus. They’re in town for an Aquinas conference and it shows how small the Catholic intellectual world is.
Then Chris and I parted ways. He went to have dinner at high table at Christ Church (!)with a professor he would have worked with had he chosen Oxford over Notre Dame, while I joined the Askonases and their friends Mark and Helen for dinner at SoJo, one of their favorite Chinese restaurants. I wasn’t feeling very well but Dim Sum perked me up and thankfully Christopher was in a particularly cheerful and delightful mood, so it was easy to manage without Chris. Jon and Laura put me back on the bus to Cowley, I got the kids in bed, and Chris came home with ice cream and a cookie and stories of the Senior Common Room. A lovely end to a lovely day.