Papist Pilgrimage

Dominic of Wootton Major?
(Image available for free download from the Patron Saints Index)

Smith of Wootton Major and Farmer Giles of Ham (paperback)

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Papist Pilgrimage

I was going to wait to publish these pictures, because I have at least one full essay's worth of things I want to say about the experience. But so many people have been asking to see the photos that I decided to go ahead and post them with just some comments and save any "deep thoughts" until later. So this page finishes any photos I have to share. (Yeah, I wish I would have taken more, too.)

First, apropos of not much, here's a shot from the window of the room I stayed in at Exeter. I took it on the morning of the same day the ones below it were taken, so my camera software decided they belonged in the same folder on my computer.

The colleges in Oxford don't have "floors" but "staircases"; as you climb the staircase, rooms open off to each side. I stayed in "staircase 6, room 9" and as you can see from my view of the steeples - and how much sky is above them - I was up pretty high.

I've been drawing diagrams trying to put the pieces of Exeter College together to figure out where Tolkien's room is in relation to this shot taken out of my bedroom window, but it's proving to be difficult enough that I'm not going to try to get it all straight before I get these pictures posted (or it will be another month). Sometime in the future I'll try to draw it all out.

Whether it was cause or effect I'm not sure, but our guided tour of C.S.-Lewis's-Oxford-along-with-mentions-of-Tolkien-whenever-they-happened-to-fit-in pretty handily eliminated anything specifically, well, you know, Catholic. Some of this was understandable because of distance, but we saw several churches where Lewis had been involved and none of Tolkien's even though there were two within a few blocks of the Bird and Baby. A group of R.C.'s from the U.S., France and Italy - and one brave (or foolhardy) Anglican - decided to use the one free afternoon we had to fill in a few blanks.   

The primary destination was Tolkien's grave, which is quite a distance from the City Centre of Oxford, but easily reachable by bus.

The first picture below shows Father Guglielmo Spirito, OFM Conv., who thankfully went by "Father William" while among English speakers. He'd given a talk earlier in the week ("The Light of Holiness: The Healing Power of Tolkien's Narrative"), and seeing his name on the proposed program was one of the things that had convinced me to attend the conference. I'd never heard of him, but it was the first time I'd seen any mention of another Franciscan with an interest in Tolkien; the lack has always surprised me, because Tolkien's spirituality has some very Franciscan-friendly elements. When I mentioned this to Father William, he said that the students at the Franciscan formation house in Assisi, where he teaches, were in the midst of a Tolkien-related project.

Most people reading this are probably aware of the "Luthien" and "Beren" names on the headstone, something JRRT specifically requested after Edith's death. We used those names during the short prayer service we held at the grave.

Both of the Tolkiens had especially loved roses, and if we'd been here earlier in the year instead of the tail end of August, the bushes here would have been quite nice. Some of the branches had already been pruned back, and the ivy was well tended.

There's a pleasant messiness about the place, because people do leave things - often small pieces of jewelry. In the picture just below, you can see a ring hanging on one of the rosebush branches. I forget why the paper cup and the piece of white paper were there, but they had some purpose and weren't just pieces of litter.

This picture shows my favorite gift. No, not the rosary, although that's very nice. It's the white and purple disc hanging from a piece of elastic. When we first spotted it, we thought it might be a keyring. If I could get this photo a bit clearer, you could see what it really is: a string bracelet with a "Barbie" - as in the doll - charm on it. One of our group said (in these exact words, believe it or not), "Tolkien would roll over in his grave." But I disagreed. Especially after having heard Priscilla's stories the evening before, I said that I thought he'd appreciate it for what it represented. It was probably some little girl's treasured possession, left in a spirit of love, or gratitude, or whatever it was she felt for the Professor and his stories.  

I've heightened the colors and contrast in this cropped part of the picture so you can see a couple of things better - the necklace of red and blue beads hanging on the ivy and the stuffed toy eagle at the lower right. There was also a toy lamb, which I don't seem to have gotten a picture of.

Here's the whole scene. There's also a penny visible toward the lower left. I assume someone cleans up the grave regularly - but I hope not too regularly. One of the Americans had her 12-year-old daughter with her at the conference, and the daughter left a piece of jewelry. The holy card "appeared" between the first photos I took and this one, so it must be from someone in our group, too; I think it was Father William.

Since I put Brummie on the spot, I'd better do the same for myself. (Well, what can you say when a guy from France offers to take your picture?)

But through the marvels of digital photography, we can at least see that I have nice fingernails (well, I did that day).
And that's all of the pictures.

Some in the group had already seen St. Aloysius and Blackfriars, so they stayed on the bus back to Exeter while the rest of us got off at St. Aloysius, the church Tolkien attended when he lived in that part of Oxford. It was originally a Jesuit church (Gerard Manley Hopkins was stationed there at one time), and I found the statement that "all Jesuit churches look alike" isn't limited to those within the U.S. St. Aloysius is built exactly like the church at the Jesuit university where I work. It's now run by the Oratorians, the group of priests who also have the Oratory in Birmingham where Father Francis Morgan lived  and where JRRT and his brother, Hilary, spent a good part of their time after their mother died, since she named Father Francis as their guardian.

St. Aloysius, the Eagle and Child, and Blackfriars are all in a straight line on the same street, with a few blocks separating each one. We walked past the Eagle and Child again, then were given a nice tour of Blackfriars by one of the Dominicans, who'd given a lecture at the conference. We saw the refectory where the first reading of "Smith of Wootton Major" took place (cf. letter #290), and also saw the statue of Smith in the chapel... Well, not really...  But...  It's a statue of St. Dominic, who's often pictured with a star as part of his halo. This statue doesn't have a halo, so the star is... yes, in the center of his forehead. Whether that statue played any part in the creation of Smith is one of those things we'll never know. I might shrug it off if it weren't for the fact that Tolkien chose to give his first reading of the story there. I don't have a picture of the statue, but this gives something of an idea. If anything, the statue has more of a resemblance.

Tolkien attended St. Gregory's when he lived in a different area of Oxford, but that was quite far away, and in the opposite direction from the gravesite, so we didn't make it there. Since it comes up in one especially intriguing letter, I'd love to get there... someday.

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The background on this page is made from one of the roses at the gravesite.
The dividers used on this page are from GRSites.
Photos copyright 2006 and text copyright 2007 by Trudy G. Shaw