When I was studying at Oxford, I asked one of my professors to show me the oldest place at the University.  I had explored the various colleges for weeks admiring the architecture and I was struck by just how old everything was compared to what we have back in the States.  I had been in pubs established in the 12th century.  I had even visited the site outside Balliol College where the martyrs Lattimer, Ridley, and Cramner had been burnt at the stake for heresy in 1555.

But my professor assured me that he could show me something much older. The University itself dated back the 11th century and had expanded rapidly in the mid 12th century after Henry II prohibited English students from attending the University of Paris. Very little was done in the area before the establishment of the University, so I was curious about what he could show me that predated Oxford proper.

He asked me to pack some water because we were going for a hike to Oxfordshire.  After about a 30 minute jaunt along the Thames, we arrived in the middle of what only and most accurately could be described as a cow pasture!  I was overly unimpressed to say the least and I was purposely doing little to disguise my true disposition. At which point he produced from his satchel a small worn copy of Beowulf.  He turned to a tattered dogeared page and began to read from the burial scene in which the hero is honored by his people.  The spot on which he was standing was the remnants of a Anglo-Saxon burial mound that dated back to the 6th century.  At this very site a hero such as Beowulf, a prince, or perhaps even a King had been cremated by the ancestors of English civilization and the site consecrated for all future generations!

"Then the nation of the Geats
began to build
a pyre more splendid
than any on the earth.
Nor was it poorly made!
But hung around with helmets,
decked with shields, bright iron shirts,
as Beowulf had commanded them to do.
In the midst of all that finery
they laid the prince most famed,
and the heroes mourned their king,
the lord they loved.

With grieving minds
and spirits wracked
with utter sorrow
they lamented
the death of their lord.
A woman keened
and sang her song of grief.
Her hair was bound
above her head.
Her song was weighted with despair.
Over and over
she spoke of fear,
of dread invasions,
piles of butchered men,
the brutality of soldiers—
shame and rape
and slavery in foreign lands.
Heaven swallowed the smoke!"