The Oxford Commencement as the Oldest Degree Ceremonies Extant: A Reprise

A degree ceremony at the University of Oxford, England

A couple days ago my mind returned to some posts I made back in the infancy of TempleStudy.com in 2008.  These posts were about the commencement exercises at Oxford University.  Now that seems quite odd, doesn’t it?  What would commencement exercises have anything to do with the temple?  Well let me tell you.  The Oxford commencement exercises as practiced today may be the oldest, longest-running, and relatively unaltered degree ceremonies still in existence, and their forms are still quite archaic, yet very familiar.  Yes, even older than Freemasonry.

Oxford University, in Oxford England, is the oldest university in the English-speaking world.  Indeed, its beginnings date back to the 11th century!  That’s old.  Furthermore, they claim that their commencement exercises, also called “degree ceremonies,” have remained unchanged for over 800 years.  That’s a long time.  Therefore, much of what is seen today in the forms of the Oxford commencement are totally unrecognizable to the modern world.  Undoubtedly even the graduates are likely baffled at the performances during the meeting.  No other university does it quite like they do.  On the other hand, much of what happens in the ceremony will be strikingly familiar to the endowed Latter-day Saint.

In 1906 a fellow by the name of Joseph Wells published a study about these ceremonies at Oxford, which I dug into quite a bit, and found quite a treasure trove of interesting parallels to modern LDS temple worship.  Of course, I only point out the Oxford side of the coin.  Why do these ceremonies have such interesting elements?  Perhaps it was when Joseph Smith took his spring vacation to Oxford in early 1842 and witnessed the ceremonies first-hand, and thought there were some good things in there, ripe for borrowing.  Joking aside, the origination of the forms of the Oxford ceremonies is up for investigation.  I only took a passing look into what they are like today.

Here are the links to my original posts in 2008:

Part 1Introductionhttp://www.templestudy.com/2008/06/27/the-degree-ceremonies-of-oxford-university-part-1/
Part 2Wells studyhttp://www.templestudy.com/2008/06/29/the-degree-ceremonies-of-oxford-university-part-2/
Part 3YouTube videoshttp://www.templestudy.com/2008/06/30/the-degree-ceremonies-of-oxford-university-part-3/
Part 4Wells continuedhttp://www.templestudy.com/2008/07/01/the-degree-ceremonies-of-oxford-university-part-4/

I’m interested in hearing thoughts about where these exercises may have come from.  Please let us know your comments.

P.S.  The matriculation ceremonies at some universities also offer some peculiarities, as seen in this clip with Julia Roberts in the movie Mona Lisa Smile.

5 Comments

  1. Posted July 15, 2012 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    What is your source that Joseph went to Oxford in 1842. This article shows Oxford, England in the caption under the picture and the article speaks of Joseph going to Oxford in 1842. As far as I have been able to find Joseph Smith Jr never went to Oxford, England. By going through the church history during the year of 1842 I do not see him having had time to go to Oxford in Massachussette either.

  2. Posted July 15, 2012 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    Sorry, Darcy. It was a joke. Joseph never went to England. Many of our critics believe that Joseph stole many ceremonial elements from other groups, somehow, even though he never came in contact with some of them. It was meant as tongue-in-cheek.

  3. Andrew Lacayo
    Posted April 25, 2013 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    Actually Freemasonry started during the crusades with the Knights Templar, so Freemasonry is way older than the Oxford Commencement Ceremonies.

  4. Andrew Lacayo
    Posted April 25, 2013 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    Please negate my last post, I was totally off on the dates.

  5. Posted April 25, 2013 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    Most scholars date Freemasonry back to sometime between the fourteenth to eighteenth century.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Freemasonry

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