Tuesday, February 10, 2015

OXFORD RIOT | 93 Dead on Feb. 10 (Updated May 11, 2016)

St. Scholastica (480-542), Twin Sister of St.
Oxford was the scene of a riot on Feb. 10, St Scholastica Day. That was in 1355, 660 years ago.

It all started with a heated argument over drinks in the  Swindlestock Tavern, where St Aldate's now intersects with Queen Street. I have provided a photo of the current location below.

Two University students – Walter Spryngeheuse and Roger de Chesterfield – tangled with the tavern owner, John Croidon. The students had the temerity to suggest that Croidon was a swindler, that his drinks were of poor quality.

After an argument they threw their drinks in Croidon's face. He retaliated and then followed armed clashes.

Centuries later, in the 1850s, students continued to view St. Scholastica’s Day as an opportunity for confrontation.

Why Would Scholastica Cause a Riot?

Marker of the Swindlestock Tavern
location in Oxford. Photo by JTMarlin.
Was there anything about Scholastica (c. 480-542) that would inspire students to complain about their drinks to a tavern owner?

Not obviously. A saint of the both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, she was the twin sister of Benedict of Nursia, Umbria, after whom the Popes through Benedict XVI were named. She and Benedict were raised  in a wealthy family until the time he left to study in Rome.

Benedictine tradition holds that Scholastica lived in a convent at Plumbariola about five miles from Monte Cassino, the first Benedictine convent. Scholastica would visit her brother annually at a location near his abbey, and they would spend the day together, worshiping and discussing sacred texts.

Scholastica Didn't Take No for an Answer

A story that might inspire a student is one about her brother Benedict's paying her one of his visits, when they are both elderly. He decides it is time to leave according to his own Rule. She asks him to stay and he says no.

Then Scholastica closes her hands in prayer and a storm then immediately starts outside their guest house. Benedict frowns and asks: "What have you done?"

She replies innocently: "I asked you and you would not listen. Then I asked my God, and He did." So Benedict is unable to return to his monastery, and they continue their discussions long into the night.

According to Gregory's Dialogues, three days later, from his cell, Benedict saw his sister's soul leaving the earth and ascending to heaven in the form of a shining white dove. Benedict had her body brought to his monastery and laid in the tomb he had prepared for himself. Scholastica is now the patron saint of nuns, and convulsive children, and is invoked against storms and rain.

The Oxford Riot

The Oxford riot back in 1355 was actually no laughing matter. Oxford's Mayor, John de Bereford, asked the Chancellor of the University, Humphrey de Cherlton, to arrest the two students who had complained about the tavern owner's wine. Instead, 200 students came to the support of the two students (Spryngeheuse and Chesterfield). Then locals poured in on behalf of the tavern owner. The Town-Gown riot lasted two days.

The aftermath was 63 scholars dead and 30 local residents. The riot was on top of earlier riots in Oxford that resulted in another 90 deaths.

The rioting scholars were eventually pacified and the University was in due course judged to be the victim. As penance, every year, on February 10, the Mayor and Councillors of Oxford were required to march bareheaded through the streets. In addition, each year they were required to pay a fine to the university of a penny for every scholar killed, 5s/3d annually. The penance ended in 1825, when the Mayor of Oxford unilaterally decided that this had gone on long enough and refused to comply any more.

On February 10, 1955, on the 600th anniversary of the riots, Town and Gown were reconciled:
  • The Mayor of Oxford was given an honorary degree.
  • The Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University was made an Honorary Freeman.

Butler, Alban. "St. Scholastica", The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principal Saints, Vol. I,
   D. & J. Sadlier, & Company, 1864.
Gregory the Great, Dialogues, Book II, Chapters 33 and 34.
Koenig, Chris. "Rioting over wine led to 90 deaths", The Oxford Times.
Miller, Carol M., The St. Scholastica Day Riot: Oxford after the Black Death, Tallahassee (Florida)
   Community College, USA.
Morris, James. Oxford. Harcourt, 1965, 69.

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