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  7. First week: from Oxford to Dover

First week: from Oxford to Dover

The stages, day by day








University of Oxford

Milton Keynes




Milton Keynes





University of Cambridge


















The following routes traveled by thousands of students who have journeid from city to city and from study to study in search of a common European identity

Moments experiences during the journey, acquaintances made, and the participation of meetings are a considerable part of the formation of the students. While, upon their return home, they bring new ideas and memories that enrich their country of origin.

Over the centuries, these wandering journeys of intellectuals have taken on different names: but first known as peregrinatio academica.  The humanistic pilgrimage of the learned and educated were animated by libraries, academies, and printed works.  Many included groups of students who escaped religious persecutions and found peace and tolerance in distant lands and universities.

We would be disappointed if we searched distinctive indication on buildings marking the beginning of this story. Student met in some areas of the city, in houses owned or united by educators, or lodged in spacious rooms of religious convents. At the end of the Middle Ages, universities began configuring independent buildings that guaranteed housing, classroom space and other needs for academic life, forming itself out of borrowed and adapted existing structures leading to different types of institutions. In English colleges, for example, the characteristic element that we encounter from the beginning is the large dining room, the hall as we can find at  Merton College or New College in Oxford. Other common elements, including those found at Oxford, are the large quadrangular courtyards, the library, and classrooms overlooking the courtyard.

While speaking about the structures we must also discuss those who breathed life into its walls.  We owe the 1517 foundation of Corpus Christi College in Oxford to Richard Foxe and the 1525 founding of Cardinal College of cardinal Thomas Wolsey. These men broadened the values of humanism throughout England and most likely inspired by Thomas Linacre, a man who traveled Italy extensively and considered the best classical humanist scholar and physician of the time who graduated in Padua in 1496.

Thomas Linacre, John Caius, John Chambre, and William Harvey are just a few names we meet on our journey.  Each demonstrating that the influence of humanism and the Paduan medical school on English culture was profound and lasting.

Oxford University

The University of Oxford originated from the evolution of associations of teachers and pupils present in the city before the 12th century, holding evidence of the earliest form of academic mobility. In 1188, Gerald of Wales gave a public reading to the assembled Oxford dons and in around 1190 the arrival of Emo of Friesland became the first known foreign student who had studied in Paris and Orleans.

In 1201 the University was headed by a magister scholarum Oxonie, on whom the title of Chancellor and in 1231 the position was later confirmed by the bishop of Lincoln. At the beginning of the 13th century, the masters were recognised as a universitas or a corporation.

The University of Oxford has been at the centre of religious and political controversies for centuries.  John Wyclif promoted the English translation of the Bible and Henry VIII forced the Oxford masters to accept the legality of his divorce from Catherine of Aragon.  In the 16th century, several clergymen were tried for heresy and burnt at the stake because of their religious ideas.

In 1621 the Botanical Garden was also founded, the oldest in Great Britain. During the English Civil War, the city was placed under siege several times, the university sided with King Charles I who had set up a counter-Parliament in the city.

The 18th and 19th centuries were times of great debate and scientific discovery for Oxford. Edmund Halley predicted the return of the comet that bears his name and in 1860 there was the famous battle between Thomas Huxley, a supporter of the theory of evolution against Bishop Samuel Wilberforce. Among the numerous and illustrious alumni of these centuries, we remember William Herschel and Lewis Carroll and in more recent times JRR Tolkien and TS Eliot.

The oldest university in the Anglo-Saxon world, one of the six oldest in Europe, today the University of Oxford has more than 25,000 students and is firmly positioned at the top of international rankings for the quality of teaching.

University of Cambridge

The University of Cambridge was founded in 1209 when a group of students from Oxford migrated due to serious injustices.

The royal charter bestowed by King Henry III of England in 1231 granted it the right to discipline its members and offer exemption from some taxes and subsidies for students.

The Peasants’ Revolt between local citizens and members of the university community in 1381 resulted in violent events, including the looting of several university properties. As a result, the Chancellor received extraordinary powers, including the ability to prosecute criminals and issue licenses.

At first, lessons took place on the premises of the Regent Masters. Later the university began to acquire property for teaching and free or subsidised lodging for students in the late 14th century.

In the 16th century, ideas related to humanism began to spread:  Erasmus of Rotterdam and other distinguished scholars came to Cambridge and encouraged the study of ancient languages and the classics. At that time, the university was infiltrated by the ideals of the Protestant Reformation, leading it to become the centre of Puritanism.

From the 17th century, Cambridge began to focus on scientific studies, especially mathematics and physics, which were required to access the examination to receive a Bachelor of Arts Degree.

The university turned to other fields of study in the 19th and 20th centuries, including the study of law, history, theology, and modern languages, as well as art, architecture, and theology.

Among the numerous and illustrious alumni that attended Cambridge over centuries, some of the most well-known include Charles Darwin, Alan Turing, Lord Byron, and Niels Bohr.

As the second oldest university in the Anglo-Saxon world and one of the six oldest universities in Europe, The University of Cambridge currently hosts about 25,000 students from 147 different countries, firmly positioning itself at the top of international rankings for the quality of teaching.

The team of the week

I have always been a lover of cycle tourism, even as a kid.  I still enjoy travelling at a relaxed pace, and cycling allows me to see and experience the territories I cross in complete freedom. I have been a laboratory technician at the University of Padua since 1990, and the Scholares vagantes is an opportunity I cannot miss because it allows me to be an active witness in the celebration of its 800th Anniversary while participating in my passion for cycling. I am proud to participate in a relay that represents a union of forces that aims at accomplishing a joint venture.
Enrico Gallo

Enrico Gallo

When I received the email from the university about this initiative, I didn’t give it a second thought, I knew I wanted to participate. This initiative fits perfectly with my philosophy of life, I believe that spreading awareness about sustainability is increasingly important. As a Transportation Systems Engineering student, I know that cycling is the easiest and most economically efficient solution for reducing road congestion and other problems it causes.
Nicola Biasi

Nicola Biasi

Someone once said, a bicycle is nothing, but it is already something, and cycling has brought me to many new places. I have met many new people and have overcome limitations. So, I had no second thoughts about deciding to participate in the relay and peddle my way through this collective adventure made of stories, culture, territories, effort, and enthusiasm.
Nicola Mazzarri

Nicola Mazzari

Participation in the Scholares vagantes initiative makes us active witnesses of not only the University of Padua community but of Europe, as we travel along a path that physically connects us as modern wondering cyclists and as institutions that represent the cultural roots of Europe. This initiative is our small contribution to the future of a more united and, more importantly, peaceful Europe.
Gianluca Moro

Gianluca Moro

Antonio Paoli, Vice Rector of Wellness and Sport, presented the initiative to the Oxford University delegation, composed by Anne Trefethen, Pro Vice Chancellor (People and Digital), Julian Duxfield, Oxford’s Director of HR (who participated on the first day of the relay to Milton Keynes) and Wei-Chen Lee, who later biked to Cambridge along with the Unipd team (he is completing a DPhil in Computer Science).

Leaving Oxford, we head east for two days, passing Milton Keynes’ Willen Lake and the town of Bedford before arriving in Cambridge.

The city of Cambridge is shaped by its university. Of all those who the figures who helped fashion this city, the scholar and philanthropist Lady Margaret Beaufort is one of the most important.  Mother of King Henry VII, Lady Margaret founded Cambridge’s St. John’s and Christ’s colleges in the early sixteenth century, which became models for other institutions of higher education until the nineteenth century.

A complete map of this city must include the places inhabited by those who resided both in Padua and Cambridge. Courtier Francis Manners and the Royal Chaplain Nicholas Wilson studied at Christ’s College, while those who studied at St John’s College include the translator William Barker, the astrologer John Dee, and the physician John Caius who later rebuilt Gonville College, where among others, doctors William Harvey and John Bastwick studied.

The meeting ceremony with the University of Cambridge delegation took place at Grove Lodge in the presence of Professor Graham Virgo, Senior Pro-Vice Chancellor for Education, Nick Brooking, Director of Sport, and James Barclay, Sports Club Coordinator.

We head south outside the city to encounter the colourfully striped DNA Cycleway, passing Horsemill Stream and, after cycling over an unpaved pathway, we reach the London Borough of Greenwich. This seafront district is home to the National Maritime Museum which preserves a portrait of Galileo, featuring the astronomer in a likeness from when he lived in Padua. The Italian scientist, born in Pisa, devoted himself to the debate on the calculation of longitude by proposing a solution through the use of a brass scientific instrument that he invented, the jovilabe. The debate would later be resolved by the son of a carpenter, the brilliant clockmaker John Harrison.

We continue until we reach the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury and witness the start of the Via Francigena. Home to the famous Canterbury Cathedral, along with St Augustine’s Abbey and St Martin’s church that cumulates to form a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The last Catholic archbishop of Canterbury and cousin of Henry VIII, Reginald Pole studied in Padua under the guidance of Nicholas Leonicus Thomaeus, and was known for economically supporting many of his fellow students.

The journey finally takes us to the Port of Dover, where we admired the oldest and most iconic castle in England, Dover Castle, which was fortified by William the Conqueror and later became the new pilgrimage route to Thomas Becket’s shrine. Not far from here we see gaze upon The Maison Dieu or Domus Dei, founded in 1203 and donated to the English Navy during the reformation. The Navy used this land as a Victualling Store, which supplied the English fleet for the next 300 years. Under Sir Francis Walsingham, the Port of Dover was restored to defend England against a potential war with Spain and its Invincible Armada.

Aerial view of the Dover Castle

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