Chapel webpage: https://www.wadham.ox.ac.uk/about/chapel
Chapel on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCTfA5iYotEsIwwXrfYMFdWw
Chapel on Twitter: https://twitter.com/wadhamchapel
Maggie Mae on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/wheresmaggiemae/
Contact the chapel at email@example.com
The choir recordings in this episode are recordings of Wadham's own choir. If you're interested in getting a full CD of recordings, or you're based at Wadham and want to join the choir, email firstname.lastname@example.org
The intro & outro music is 'For the Poor' by Dan Brasco, used under the linked Creative Commons License.
The Bell sound effect was obtained from https://www.zapsplat.com
The voice of Wadcast's intro is that of Hannah Ledlie.
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Jane Baun: I probably shouldn't say this on record, but Wadham I think is really the only college I would want to be the chaplain of.
Hannah Ledley (intro voice): You're listening to Wadcast - a podcast from Wadham College, University of Oxford, bringing you interviews, seminars and stories from our community.
Martin (producer): Welcome to episode 4. In this episode I talk to our chaplain Jane Baun. Also present though silent is Maggie Mae, the chaplain’s dog/cat. (More on that later).
Jane shares about the role of the Chapel in our community, its history, the mysteries of Maggie Mae, the gardens, trees, and a little about herself. We've got your Wadham fix covered. Let's get to it.
[Main podcast segment begins]
Martin: Thank you, Jane, for meeting me today.
Jane: Oh, it's a pleasure.
Martin: it's lovely to be in the Chapel itself. It would be great to hear anything you want to share about this Chapel space.
Jane: Well, I think this space is an amazing sort of like a ship. It's like a cruise ship that brings everyone together and the minute people enter this space, especially in the winter time, when it is dark outside and there's no artificial lighting and it's lit completely by candlelight, it just becomes this beautiful dark haven where you can slide in and be part of it in the way that you're comfortable, so you don't feel exposed, you don't feel that you have to, that you're being judged by anyone, you can just slide into your little dark corner.
So it's a real haven for people who are looking for a space just to be themselves, just to escape from all the demands and pressures of normal life.
Of course the Chapel is the same as it looked in the early 17th century when it was consecrated and when the windows were added, but obviously many things are very, very different so Dorothy Wadham would be quite surprised to see a lot of what goes on in Wadham Chapel, I would think.
The Chapel really tries to position itself as a spiritual home for everyone in the college, no matter where they are with any kind of supreme being, deity or cultural tradition.
And so our Chapel wardens are drawn from a wide variety of faith backgrounds, including Hinduism, Islam, Shinto, we've got agnostics, we even have a few token Christians. And we really try to reach out to everyone.
It really came to the fore in the pandemic: the idea of the Chapel is the heart of the college because during the lockdown, the strictest parts of the lockdown, the Chapel was the only place where people could come to the garden to escape out of their rooms and be in a space where they could just be by themselves, maybe escape their household bubble, and it really came into its own as a sanctuary for people just to sit with their thoughts.
And escape into a place of beauty, and that is partly what evensong does as well. It's sort of an hour of Sonic therapy of sound and light and something completely unlike what you do the other hours of the week.
That people say it's a gorgeous way to end the weekend and begin the week starting fresh, just in a completely different zone.
Martin: It's a great description, Sonic therapy.
Jane: Or Sonic Cleanse, sometimes we say, but that maybe sounds a bit unpleasant!
Martin: What can you tell us about the history of the Chapel?
Jane: So the Chapel was consecrated on the 29th of April 1613, which means it's coming up to its 410th anniversary.
I think it's fair to say that there's an unbroken continuity for 410 years of saying evensong in this Chapel, so we still do evensong every Sunday evening at 6:00 o'clock to which everyone is welcome, according to the Book of Common Prayer. So that's the wording that originated in the 16th century, and the core wording of the service has been the same. Everyone who has sat in these pews has said the same words for 410 years.
And so it's a really beautiful way for the undergraduates to just enter into that stream of continuity of the ancestors of Wadham and be part of that.
Martin: What do people tend to notice when they first walk in?
Jane: The thing that really hits people when they walk in the Chapel is the windows. We have astonishing windows, and they were put in about a decade after the Chapel was consecrated in 1613.
And Wadham was...
Eh, just I'm a trained as a historian so I can't help myself: Wadham is a post-reformation Chapel, so you might be surprised that it's got all of this stained glass.
So the question is, how did Dorothy Wadham our foundress get away with filling her Chapel with stained glass? Well, the answer is she was very canny on either side.
On the nave where the young men would be sitting in the pews staring at the windows, you have examples of biblical virtue, manly virtue.
So on the one side we have a range of prophets, on the other side we have the Apostles. And so the young men sitting in the pews would not be looking at objects of superstitious veneration. They would be looking at objects of biblical. manly virtue to emulate.
And so I think that's part of it. We have among the prophets a very famous Jonah and the whale. The whale looks a bit like an electric eel on steroids! And we have another Jonah in the whale in the great East window, so the great East window, which is absolutely an astonishing accomplishment is scenes from the passion of Christ - again unobjectionable to post reformation sensibility. And then Old Testament stories that were thought to prefigure things that happened in the life of Christ, including another absolutely splendid Jonah and the whale.
So when people who are listening to this, when you come to visit the Chapel, be sure that you cheque out both of the Jonas and the whales.
Martin: That's great. Thanks for sharing. Should we walk into the Ante Chapel?
[pause for chapel music]
Jane: So we have this enormous Ante Chapel on the end of the the Chapel, which is a really, really good liminal space because it's not the consecrated church. So we can do all kinds of things in it. And we've had photo exhibitions of all different kinds. We had one on Mexican feminist protest photography a couple of years ago. We're about to have one on the Rhodes must fall movement in the answer Chapel.
So it's used as an exhibition space, it's used as a live performance space during Wadstock. We've had performance poetry in here and then one thing that when you come to visit the outer Chapel that immediately strikes here is we have a candle stand over in the corner and anyone is free to come in.
Take the matches...
And light a candle...
[Sound of match being struck]
So people do this for all different kinds of reasons. We have a little display here about the war in Ukraine. Some people come to have a quiet moment or have a pray to think about, pray in solidarity with the people of Ukraine.
Some people come obviously with really, really personal things that they're living with. A relative who's ill or someone has died. And staff come through during the day while they're going to and fro and light a candle, so this is a spot that really has emerged as a place of consolation. When people are in some the midst of some sort of sorrow or trouble and they don't know what to do, they can at least come and light a candle and feel they're doing something positive.
So there's a steady stream of of people through here lighting candles, which is really lovely. The other thing that has happened in recent years in the Ante Chapel is, while we were building the new building and the remembrance tablets from the two world wars were in storage, the Ante Chapel became the place where we did our remembrance service. So we have a memorial in the corner to a man from Wadham who was killed in Mesopotamia in the World War One, and that became a focal point for remembrance.
So on Remembrance Day we gathered in the Ante Chapel and we did the two minutes silence about 11 and we tolled the Bell which we have in the Chapel building, and it is a place of remembrance in many different ways.
[Sound of bell ringing].
Evensong and the weekday activities the Chapel throws are one of the few things that unite students across year groups and across subject. And that was especially true of the tree walks that we inaugurated. So I want to take you into the garden and we can talk about the trees.
Martin: I'd love to see some trees.
Jane: Let's take Maggie Mae, who hasn't featured until now, but...
Martin: Yeah, she's been kind of following us around a bit, but I'm in the background.
Jane: Our silent in this whole endeavour has been Maggie Mae the Chapel dog or the welfare cat, but more about that when we get outside.
Jane: Yeah, that sounds great.
Martin: What's the deal with Maggie being a cat?
Jane: Ah, well. So the one thing Dorothy Wadham did not foresee when the statutes were being drawn up for the college was that Maggie would come into its life.
So most of the Oxford colleges and their historic statutes disallow dogs. I think this dates to the time when gentlemen would come and want to go do their field sports on the weekends, or perhaps instead of their lectures, and they would want to bring their packs of hunting dogs into the college.
So dogs are not allowed according to the statutes, but cats are because cats obviously are useful and they catch mice and rats. So a decision was made by the governing body that for the chaplain's dog that while on the job, the college Chaplain’s companion animal would be redefined as a cat. So Maggie transcends the binary between canine and feline, and on the job she ended up as a cat.
At home and at leisure she identifies as canine but the joke is actually quite good in Maggie's case because she's very feline in behaviour. She's very, very quiet. She's very emotionally self-sufficient, yeah.
The garden is really Maggie's lair in a way. Maggie does the rounds of the benches, she does the sort of welfare rounds on people who are having picnics, talking, checking on them, making sure they're all right. Obviously it's all about food. But people have a relationship with Maggie that is about more than food.
So Maggie normally hangs out on the ramp just outside my office and Suns herself, and she has a relationship with people that I have no knowledge of the complete depth of. I sit in my office with the door open and I hear people say “Oh, Maggie, I love you. I love you so much, Maggie!” Maggie is always happy to hang out with people and make them believe that she loves them, and it's not all about food.
Maggie started her early life as a street dog in Bucharest. She was found begging door to door. She has absolutely perfected “the look”. She gives you “the look” with those big eyes in that sad face saying, “My entire nutritional needs for today have to be met by your sandwich. Please help me!” And people just give her things so I have a little hankerchief I put on her.
It says do not feed, actually. But Maggie is an integral part of my role as chaplain. I can't imagine being a chaplain without a dog, because in a lot of colleges, the chaplain is known to people who like that kind of thing, you know, who are a bit odd and and like going to church or whatever.
But I'm known, if not by name, at least by face to everyone in the college, because I'm the person who brings Maggie, and I've got used to that.
You know, I come up group of students and they say “oh, Maggie, how are you? … Oh, hi, Jane.” But that's the way it should be. So having Maggie here is such an asset to the welfare work.
Jane: So one of the things we started doing during the pandemic, when we came back from the lockdown, I decided that everyone had become far too domesticated and that the students all needed to be rewilded that they were just sitting in front of their computers, sitting in their rooms and we need to get them out.
Wadham has the third best collection of trees in Oxford after the uni parks and the Arboretum. And that's because from the 17th century onward, it was full of people who were fascinated by Natural History and science and botany.
And so we've had a fantastic collection of trees from the very beginning. We have in the Warden’s garden, the oldest tree for which we have written records, which was planted in 1701, and it's a North American Tulip tree, interestingly enough.
We have trees that are older, but we don't have records of them having been planted.
So I started doing tree walks, and tree appreciation walks. The students all assumed that I'd majored in biology or I knew something about trees. And it couldn't be further from the truth, because I'm a history major. Mediaeval history.So what I was doing was staying one tree group ahead of them, basically doing my research and nobbling Andrew little, our astonishing head gardener saying, Andrew, what's that tree?
So in the autumn we meet twice a week. At lunchtime and we go around and do all the deciduous trees and see what's happening with them. And then in the spring we come back and revisit the deciduous trees and see them waking up and see the garden waking up.
The gardens are an absolute glory of Wadham, and they're part of the huge sense of welcome and haven that Wadham presents in the middle of Oxford for so many people.
So we're standing here under a very interesting tree. This is the small Beech tree in the garden that's open to the public. It's about just planted the year 2000, so it's 22 years old.
This tree is the child of a humongous Beech tree that used to be in the far corner of the garden that was over 300 years old.
The Huge Beech tree that succumbed to honey fungus and when it became clear that they couldn't save the tree and it was declining, Andrew saved a number of the Beech nuts and planted them and tenderly nurtured them to become saplings. And then planted this. So this is the daughter or son or child tree? - of the 300 year old Beech tree that had to be taken down and there are little tree family relationships all over the garden in that way.
So once you really get to know the trees, it transforms how you move through this space because all the trees become friends and a lot of students have found it's so important for their well-being and as a welfare officer. I'm always trying to get people out into the garden just to get to know it, a tree and live with it through the seasons and get yourself out of your head and into something bigger than you, so the gardens are a huge, priceless part of that ethos of Wadham.
Martin: Thank you so much, Jane, for sharing about the Chapel, the trees, the garden, Maggie Mae. I’d be interested to hear a little bit about yourself and how you came to have this role here as chaplain.
Jane: Those of you who are detecting that I didn't necessarily grow up in England will of course be wondering, where is she from?
I was born in Washington DC. I grew up in suburbs of Virginia, spent most of my life up and down the East Coast.
But I married an Englishman and so that brought me to Oxford finally, because we had a transatlantic baby. So I'm trained as a historian, as a mediaeval historian of the Byzantine Empire and with special interest in religious culture. I resigned my job at New York University, moved to Oxford, became a stay at home mum. Which is very, very strange, but not for long. I picked up academic work here and there, but the great thing about being chaplain is it it merges everything I've ever done in my life and I can make use of every bit of experience I've ever had. For example, I have a sideline in postgraduate students who are really struggling with their dissertations.
Because I've been on all sides of that relationship, the supervisor relationship and the struggling relationship, so the role of chaplain in its quasi academic sense, and obviously then it's spiritually nurturing sense, makes use of all of my experience and all of my passions. So, and I probably shouldn't say this on record, but Wadham is, I think, really the only college I would want to be the chaplain of. Because Walden is just such an astonishingly open and friendly and accepting community and I'm not just saying that because I'm the chaplain of Wadham.
Wadham has really got a beautiful position between being old enough to be interesting and be respectable and hold our head up in terms of the older colleges, but young enough that we don't own most of London and we don't think we're the masters of the universe and the centre of everything. So Wadham has a really beautiful attitude of openness to new ideas and nurturing the the interest and the craziness and the goodness that's in every person, and I really love being part of that.
Martin: Thank you so much. And if people want to connect with you or the Chapel online, say what's the best way for them to do that?
Jane: Just emailing me, email@example.com.
Martin: Jane also wanted to plug the chapel's social media. The Chapel has its own YouTube channel featuring evensongs recorded during the pandemic. She particularly commends those from Hillary term 2021, which featured the poetry of George Herbet.
The chapel is also on Twitter and Instagram, so do check out those feeds.
The choir you've heard during this episode is actually Wadham’s own Chapel Choir. If you'd like to hear the full audio recordings, we do have them available on good old fashioned CD. I'll let you know how you can get a hold of one of those in the show notes.
The choir itself is a friendly group of students and tutors, and if you'd like to join, there are auditions at the beginning of term.
You can e-mail the chaplain if you're interested. Again, I'll include that in the show notes.
For those of you based at Wadham, big upcoming at the chapel will include the Diwali celebration and closer to Christmas, the Carol service. Maybe see you there.