Benedikt Benedikz: librarian, scholar, raconteur
A few months ago I was sad to read of the death of John Fenton, former principal of St Chad’s College, Durham. Now it is the turn of Benedikt Benedikz, a member of the St Chad’s College senior common room when I was there.
Benedikt Benedikz, librarian and scholar, was born on April 4, 1932. He died on March 25, 2009, aged 76.
he had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the most diverse facts. He was a walking Who’s Who of theologians, politicians and academics, alive or dead. Cataloguers rarely had to consult reference books, for he could tell them immediately the correct name of a monk on the remote island of Fulda, the author of a long-forgotten Victorian children’s novel or an obscure French dramatist. Occasionally the facts would become tangled. He once memorably confused Virginia Woolf’s Orlando with the children’s classic Orlando the Marmalade Cat.
There are memorials of him here, and I invite any members of St Chad’s, or other Durham students who remember him to add their memories in the comments below.
For my contribution I reproduce my own diary entry for 5 October 1966, when I had just arrived at Durham as a post-graduate student:
I went to Matins and Mass in the college chapel for the first time. It was rather old fashioned and Edwardian, I should imagine. Liturgical reform does not seem to have penetrated at all. Later in the day I went with Graham (Mitchell) to the SPCK Bookshop, and opened an account. The bookshop itself is in the cathedral close – very beautiful, and Barchester Towers come to life, with these lovely old stone buildings, trees and green lawns.In the evening after supper I went on a tour of the university library conducted by the assistant librarian Benedikt Benedikz – think that that is his name. His appearance as well as his name is quite incredible. He originated in Iceland, a short, stockily-built man, with round face, a straw-coloured, bushy moustache, and hexagonal rimless spectacles. He spoke rapidly throughout, about each of the benefactors of the library, and how long they had lived. Chris Gwilliam had said he is a good bloke to cultivate, as he knows a lot about everything, and has some juicy gossip about members of staff.
I left in the bit about the SPCK Bookshop as I’ve blogged elsewhere about its sad demise, and there is even a blog devoted especially to that.
My attempts to cultivate Benedikt Benedikz, however, were unrewarding, if not downright discouraging. I asked for his advice and help in locating books on spiritual powers and the like, and he was actually quite obstructive and discouraging. I think he suspected me of having an unhealthy interest in demonology and would be using the knowledge to conjure up unclean spirits in my room or something. As a result I’ve always held him partly to blame for the fact that Walter Wink published first, and wrote the books that I had wanted to write (Wink’s books were Naming the powers, Unmasking the powers and Engaging the powers).
Another extract from my diary (a partial one, this time) for 10 September 1967:
After supper went drinking in the Dun Cow with Chris Gwilliam and John Ball and Bob Gallagher. We were joined by several others, including Benedikt Benedikz, who has just returned from the St Alban and Sergius Fellowship at Broadstairs, where he said he had been told that a significant movement was developing in the Russian Church, where a number of members seemed to think that the hierarchy was kow-towing too much to the government, and so had started up on their own. I asked him if it was like the confessing church in Germany, and he said no, the confessing church had stuck its neck out and got chopped for it, but this lot were going around and meeting in basements and so on.