Searching for Chaucer’s church in old Oxford

Oseney Abbey

So, I was thinking back to the days of reading Canterbury Tales, and remembered there was definitely a student from Oxford in one of them. Oh yeah, it’s the most bawdy of them all, the Miller’s Tale (sorry, Reeve’s Tale). It begins,

“Whilom ther was dwellynge at Oxenford
A riche gnof, that gestes heeld to bord,
And of his craft he was a carpenter.
With hym ther was dwellynge a poure scoler…”

In other words, there’s a rich carpenter living in Oxford, he’s a jerk, and there’s a poor (Oxford) student living with him. It turns out that this student, Nicholas, has decided to flirt and play with this old carpenter’s young wife, Alison, while he’s away. Long story short, they copulate.

I got curious just where the carpenter (John) had gone off to, and it turns out he had made a journey to the nearby very powerful monastery, Oseney Abbey (in modern day Osney Town, Oxford). Osney Town is on my way home from Oxford’s city center, and the ruins of the abbey (900 years old, but now barely existent) are nearby. Basically, the carpenter could have rushed home and found them in about 10 minutes, anywhere in Oxford’s city walls. Silly kids.

Naturally, I decided I have to see the ruins. This lead to much frustration and confusion. It is nearly impossible to find out any information about Oseney Abbey, except that it was very powerful, owned a lot of land, and its bell now sits in Christ Church’s Tom Tower (and thus I hear it all the time from the library and on the way to the dining hall).

But where exactly are the ruins? Well, somewhere on the short Mill Street, apparently, but only one website told me that, and nowhere says more specifically. Okay, so England’s third most powerful monestary (at one point) now deserves no more than a few offhand mentions in various historical blurbs?

Oxford is an incredible place. Not many places can afford to forget a church that Chaucer apparently thought was worth incorporating into what would become his most famous tale. I will report back on my efforts to find (and photograph?) whatever ruins I can find. For now, I’ve got this picture (at the top of this post) of the ruins, taken in the 19th century.

Wytham Woods

Oh, and there are these incredible woods (Wytham Wood, pictured above) that Oxford University owns out north-east of the wild horses. It’s a six mile walk out into the countryside, but that doesn’t sound so bad at all.



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