Saturday, 4 July 2009

Sidney Sussex … the College of Love in Cambridge

A wedding party waiting to go into the chapel in Sidney Sussex Colege Cambridge (Photograph; Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I’m back in Cambridge again, and staying once again in Sidney Sussex College, the venue for the 10th Summer School organised by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies (IOCS).

The theme for this year’s summer school is “Love.” On Monday morning, Dr Marcus Plested introduces the theme with a lecture entitled “A many-splendoured thing,” and Dr Alexander Lingas is going to look at “Music, Psalmody and the Love of God: ancient traditions and modern challenges.” Later in the day, Dr Christine Mangala Frost asks “Who’s afraid of the Song of Songs” as she looks at “Love in Christian and other traditions.”

Other speakers during the week include Professor David Frost, Father Michael Harper, Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, the Revd Professor Andrew Louth, Dr Sebastian Brock, Father Alexander Tefft, and Archimandrite Zacaharias. And Wednesday, we plan to visit the Monastery of Saint John the Baptist in Tolleshunt Knights in Essex, where Sister Magdelen will speak about “The monastery as a school of universal love.”

Perhaps “Love” is a very appropriate summer school topic for Sidney Sussex College – after all, the college was founded on Saint Valentine’s Day in 1596. But then, according to one Facebook group, Sidney Sussex is known in Cambridge as the “College of Love.”

It is said by some Sidney students that many of them have fallen in love with their prospective partners here, and have even married within the college itself. This college has a reputation for science, but can science explain why love matches are made here? Could it have anything to do with the fact that Sidney’s bar is the only student-run bar left in Cambridge? Or is because Sidney also has an awesome wine cellar, and some of the best formal Hall nosh?

Do you think the way to a fresher’s heart is through his or her stomach?

Sidney also has a rather beautiful walled garden. Does this enhance lovers’ privacy? After all, it's quite small by Cambridge college standards, and it’s not well-known on the tourist trail. Perhaps this means students know they can relax in their natural environment … away from the pressures of camcorders and cameras.

Some students even romanticise these claims, claiming the source of the love power emanates from L staircase – the staircase of Love –in Cloister Court. Last year I stayed on Staircase K, this year my rooms are on Staircase H in Chapel. “How should I know?” I wondered as I looked out my window after my arrival this afternoon … only to find in the court below a bride waiting with her wedding party for the photographer before going into chapel for a wedding … and the reception this evening is taking place in the gardens!

Meanwhile, I’ve been told of a family of ducks that returns to Sidney Sussex during the summer – a sure sign that they too are totally loved up, and that Sidney Sussex is, after all, the College of Love itself.