Did you know that Oxford is home to the most famous sentence in Dutch literature?

On Thursday 13th February, ESUK’s Dutch section went to see it in the University’s Bodleian Library. The sentence was written in the back of a medieval prayer book as a pen trial – a quick scribble to test the sharpness of the writer’s quill. The writer was a Flemish monk, living in eleventh century Rochester. He was most probably reminiscing about his time at home, and this sentence was the first thing that came into his head:

Hebban olla uogala nestas hagunnan hinase hic enda thu uuat unbidan uue nu?

“Have all birds begun nests, except me and you – what are we waiting for?”

The students found it a very interesting experience, and were surprised to see the book in such good condition. Hebban olla vogala is taught and discussed in every Dutch school, so the chance to see it in real life was a special one. The Dutch students were intrigued and asked many insightful questions (their teacher was very impressed!). Our students, being true ambassadors of their Dutch culture, gifted the curator a novel (translated into English) to thank him for his time and hospitality and hopefully spark his interest in Dutch literature.

With thanks to Matthew Holford of the Bodleian Library

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