|The canons' favourite house - the Erazm Ciolek Palace, Cracow|
Photo by Ansomia
As the new academic year gets under way, and
Somerville welcomes a
number of new Fellows and lecturers, members of the Senior Common Room (i.e.
academic staff of the college) have been sent an email explaining the etiquette
of seating at lunchtimes, when we eat together in our 19C, high-ceilinged,
wood-panelled hall. SCR seating conventions vary between colleges, but at Somerville good manners
consist of early lunchers taking a seat on the left-hand side of High Table,
and of later arrivals sitting in the next free place thereafter. If you’re reserving places
for guests or colleagues with whom you’re having a working lunch, you normally head for
the ‘lower high’ tables (i.e. the overflow area).
When I first worked in the archives of the Cracow diocese, as a graduate student, I spent several weeks reading the minutes of the Cracow cathedral chapter from the late 15th-century (in an archive located in a gatehouse on the Wawel hill, which scores of tourists passed beneath every hour). I was surprised, and slightly disappointed, to find that these very senior and educated clergymen – who assisted the bishop in the running of the cathedral and diocese – did not spend much time at their meetings discussing what we would think of as religion. Instead, they were much preoccupied with regulating and organising their collective collegiate life. They argued about which canon got to occupy the best houses in Canons’ Street, at the foot of the castle, about who should be excluded from their common table/shared meal-times for bad behaviour, and in particular who should sit and stand where… in cathedral chapter meetings, in public processions, and during church services. Behind the finely tuned conventions, the oft-reiterated rules and the occasional squabbles, one could detect a clear vision of how the shared, communal life of a late medieval cathedral chapter should look, and a strong belief in that ideal.