Thursday, 6 December 2012

Remembrances of Formal Hall Past

Dinner at Brasenose College was a two-stage affair when I was an undergrad. There were two choices: the earlier dinner was informal, and the second sitting was formal. "Formal", in this instance, meant wearing a gown, which could be worn over pretty much anything.

If one were a chapel person, and in particular if one were the Bible Scholar, one occasionally got to say the grace before the second sitting. I wasn't, and didn't. It was in Latin, and goes as follows:

Oculi omnium spectant in Te, Deus!
Tu das illis escas tempore opportuno.
Aperis manum Tuam et imples omne anima Tua benedictione.
Mensae caelestis nos participes facias, Deus,
Rex aeternae gloriae. Amen.

Which we used to translate as "something about heavenly tables?" Most of us weren't greats scholars.

Those who had to carry out this task often used to enliven it by trying to say it as quickly as possible. I believe the record was about 10 seconds. I hope when the books are open and thrones set in place, they weren't be judged for their deeds. I mean - what could an appropriate punishment be? Having to spend all eternity at Lincoln?


  1. I predate you by some years, I think, and dinner at LMH in my day was always formal, with gowns and Latin grace and having to wait by the entrance door and bow to High Table (and be acknowledged by the Principal) if one was late. Probably quite a good preparation for ministry in the Anglican Church. :)

  2. My college (Trevelyan, Durham) apparently no longer has Formal Dinner! Disgraceful! One's gown was invaluable for covering up one's jeans AND for disguising gravy-drips!

    My mum was at LMH before the War and remembered the habits mentioned by Perpetua. She also had a jug of hot water delivered at 7 each morning to pour into a bowl for washing, and some firewood for the fire. Unsurprisingly, she recalled her years at Oxford as the coldest in her life, even though she came from Northumberland!

    love Mags B x

  3. Is that Latin from memory? Our formal hall grace at Clare College, Cambridge (which I did once have the doubtful privilege of pronouncing) was clearly based on the same Bible verse, but was subtly different in the text. The first part of it I remember as the same as in this archived version of a Wikipedia page:

    "Oculi omnium in te sperant Domine: Tu das iis escam eorum in tempore opportuno. Aperis tu manum tuam, Et imples omne animal benedictione tua. ..."

    Don't ask me what that means, I'm not a Latin scholar either. But as a former Bible translator I am interested in the variant versions of the Latin of Psalm 145:15-16. Both differ from the Vulgate (144:15-16) as at Bible Gateway.

  4. Girton's grace was easier: Benedictus benedicat.
    Also quicker when you're hungry (which you had to be to eat the food they served then)

  5. I think that's the text from the Missal/Gradual (Gradual for Corpus Christi), which generally retains the Old Latin translations from before Jerome's Vulgate - presumably because nobody could be bothered to do all the rewriting of the chant to fit the new translation.

  6. AT LMH in my day I usually tried to avoid formal hall at which the chaplain said (at great speed) a grace which started "benedictus benedictat ...." and ended " ...domine nostrum. Amen." and had something in between which I never managed to catch. I preferred the informal canteen style to formal hall because the formal version took so much longer.

    We had graduated by then from firewood to a two-bar electric fire in our rooms - although there was an open fire in the common room during the few days when the interview candidates were up, presumably to con them into thinking that toasting crumpets in front of an open fire was a regular part of the Oxford experience! I can confirm that it was a cold time, especially for the cost-conscious who rarely used the fire because the electricity was metered.

    My husand was at Hertford where whichever student was the most senior present was expected to say grace. Hertford meals were notoriously awful at the time and were not well-attended. On one occasion the most senior undergraduate was a mathematics (I think) student with no knowledge of Latin at all. Apparently his version of grace ("rub-a-dub-dub, thanks for the grub") was not well-received by the senior members present!


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