Like other Oxford colleges, Lincoln follows the custom of reading its own particular grace in Latin before every sitting of formal hall. At these occasions, where academic gowns are worn, the fellow presiding at High Table strikes an age-worn (but remarkably durable) trencher on the table, which gives a cue for a student to read aloud the following grace:
Benignissime Pater, qui providentia tua regis, liberalitate pascis et benedictione conservas omnia quae creaveris, benedicas nobis, te quaesumus, et hisce creaturis in usum nostrum, ut illae sanctificatae sint et nobis salutares, et nos, inde corroborati, magis apti reddamur ad omnia opera bona; in laudem tui nominis aeterni, per Iesum Christum Dominum nostrum, Amen.
In translation, this is rendered:
Most gracious Father, who by thy providence rulest, in thy generosity feedest, and by thy blessing preservest all that thou hast created; bless us, we beseech thee, and these creatures for our use, so that they may be hallowed and of benefit to us, and we, strengthened thereby, may be rendered fitter for all good works; to the praise of thy eternal name, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
The tradition of reading grace before meals in hall is a long-standing one at Lincoln: college records from at least the early sixteenth century mention a scholar reading grace in hall, as well as (for some time) the reading of a Latin Bible chapter after the grace by a specially-appointed 'bible clerk' (a scholarly dogsbody paid less than the college barber!). These days, any student at Lincoln is entitled to read the grace, unlike some other colleges, which still stipulate Scholars or Exhibitioners only. As an additional incentive for readers at Lincoln, the college offers a bottle of wine to students who recite the grace twice in a term, which might explain the keenness of some students to be the first to claim the grace board when entering hall.
While some accounts of grace reading at Oxford colleges maintain that the correct pronunciation should be 'in the style of reformed classical Latin', Lincoln has a particularly fine tradition of hearing the grace recited in a multitude of accents and twangs - from Hispanic and Italian to Germanic and, memorably for several years in the early 2000s, Geordie. Yet despite the variations in pronunciation and oratorical flourish (not to mention speed!) with which it is read, the grace remains - like the venerable High Table trencher - a robust and enduring feature of hall and college life.
Text by Chris Stamatakis. Photo by Emma Hall.