Visiting C. S. Lewis’ Oxford. Holy Trinity Church, Headington.

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Holy Trinity entrance and war memorial.

Having spent the morning at the C. S. Lewis Nature Reserve, and his old home, The Kilns, I had one last place to visit before I left Headington and returned to Oxford city centre. Holy Trinity Church is only a few minutes walk away from the Kilns, and I knew it would be open as I’d called ahead the week before and spoken to the vicar. He’d been really helpful, letting me know where the light switches were etc.

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Interior of Holy Trinity.

Holy Trinity looks old, but in reality only dates from Victorian times, having been designed by Gilbert Scott. It’s small but charming, and the churchyard had a quiet, pleasant atmosphere as I walked along the path. The way to Lewis’ grave was clearly signposted, so I had no trouble finding it. As I was walking through the churchyard, I passed a young man sitting on a bench, clearly grieving for a recent loss. I felt fraudulent, coming to visit the grave of a man who I’d never met, who in fact died years before I was born. Here was someone with a real reason to visit a grave. I didn’t want to intrude so I turned right and went instead into the church itself.

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Memorial plaque on Lewis’ pew.

Inside, the church was empty and silent. Plain white walls and rich, dark wood pews gave a clean, simple feel to the building. On the left hand side of the church I found the pew where Lewis and his brother Warnie generally sat. His usual seat was marked by a brass plaque attached to the pew in front. Naturally, I sat down there (I’d been on my feet all day) and thought a little about what I was doing here. Travelling 300 miles to visit places associated with a long-dead author seems a strange thing to do when I think of it objectively. However, the very fact that so many other people want to do exactly the same thing tells me I’m not as peculiar as I sometimes think I may be. After all, the Kilns does a brisk trade in guided tours. Holy Trinity has a whole section on its site dedicated to the Lewis link. If I’m strange, then there are plenty of other people out there who are just as strange as me!

I wondered how it must have felt to be the vicar here, giving sermons to a congregation which included Lewis, a man who had the ability to explain and communicate ideas about faith and Christianity so convincingly to the layman. Did the vicar worry about comparisons or judgements?

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The Narnia Window.

Close to Lewis’ old pew is the ‘Narnia window’. It’s a beautiful tribute to the Narnia stories, but with a sad story behind it. It is dedicated to a brother and sister of the parish, who both died in childhood.

The window is not made from traditional coloured stained glass. It is etched, with some suggestions of colour in places. The result is delicate but beautiful. I spent some time looking over the different panes, identifying the different characters and items represented.

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The lamppost.

At the top of the window is the lamppost. In the left hand pane, Aslan’s head is shown above the word ‘Narnia’. Below that Jill can be seen, riding on Glimfeather’s back. Further down is the Dawn Treader, with Aslan’s face on its sail. To the left, a bird sits in a tree – possibly the phoenix from Aslan’s garden. At the bottom of the window, another bird stands next to a dwarf, whom I assumed to be Trumpkin. Beside them stand Lucy’s cordial bottle and Peter’s sword (Rhindon) and shield.

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The left hand pane.

In the right hand pane, Polly and Digory fly across the sky on Fledge’s back. Susan’s horn hangs on a tree branch below them, and her bow and quiver of arrows are underneath. Reepicheep stands in the foreground, and behind him are a number of animals, including a stag (the white stag?), Jewel the unicorn, a boar (from The Last Battle?) and a bear. Behind them Cair Paravel can be seen, along with the mountains and forests of Narnia. Oddly, I couldn’t see anything (as far as I was aware) which represented The Horse and His Boy, but the other six books were referenced. Maybe I missed something.

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The right hand pane.

Coming back out of the church, I saw that the graveyard was now empty, so I walked across to Lewis’ grave. It was marked by a long, low stone, with a simple cross carved at the top. Warnie and Jack were both buried here. The quotation on the stone, ‘Men must endure their going hence,’ was taken from a calendar owned by their mother, Flora. It was the quote shown on the calendar on the day she died. Previous visitors had left flowers and poems or letters (I didn’t want to read them to check – they weren’t for me) on top of the grave. I said a silent ‘thank you’ for the huge amount of pleasure and comfort I’ve had over the years from the books Lewis wrote, and turned back to the gate, leaving the churchyard.

Near to the church I passed the Mason’s Arms, unsurprisingly patronised by the Lewis brothers on many occasions. The afternoon was getting on, and I still had lots of Lewis haunts to visit, so I made my way to the nearest bus stop, to catch a bus back to central Oxford, feeling happy to have paid my respects to the person who played such a large part in my childhood, and more.

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