Usually a chapel closed for renovation work makes for disappointment. Not during our Ertegun visit to Trinity College. Not only did we have access to the chapel. But the scaffolding built for the extensive restoration enabled us to climb right under the ceiling and take a close look at the Grinling Gibbons carvings, the plasterwork, the fresco and the stained glass. This was a remarkable experience, and a unique opportunity to appreciate the detail of the carvings and plasterwork, as well as to learn something about the logistics of such a complex work of conservation.
But this was not the only marvel of our visit. Trinity College is interesting because the original medieval quad was largely rebuilt in the 17th century. While some of the buildings, such as the chapel, were replaced, in other cases the original medieval buildings were preserved, as with the old library. Visiting this library gave us an idea of how scholars in former times stored their books and conducted their study, working in close proximity to the bookcases, to which the books were physically chained. I was impressed by the hardship they put up with, and rendered even more appreciative of my comfortable desk at Ertegun House.
Finally, we got to see a crucial feature of former college culture: the port railway. A port railway was an ingenious device (involving two containers linked by a cord), which enabled fellows to pass port around clockwise (as convention demands) without having to get up to bridge the gap imposed by the fireplace. What people in Oxford wouldn’t come up with to resist revising a convention!
In summary, the Ertegun Tour of Trinity College was an excellent opportunity to learn something about the history of Oxford, its art and social life, and the way people used to study. I am very glad I came along.