Skip to content

Benedikt Benedikz: librarian, scholar, raconteur

2 May 2009

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.

Benedikt Benedikz: librarian and Norse scholar | Times Online Obituary:

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.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Chris Gwilliam permalink
    2 May 2009 2:49 pm

    Ben was larger than life. Occasionally pompous, frequently exasperating, but always with a great heart, and most often of all laugh-out-loud funny. Think Gerard Hoffnung and you are not far from the mark.

    He was godfather to our son Huw and last year a cheque just turned up unexpectedly; Ben had invested a sum of money for his several godchildren and sent it on when it matured. So far as I know he was a non-driver, but he would make the trek from Birmingham by train and bus to visit us when we lived at the top end of an obscure Welsh valley. Once he knew you his friend he would make huge efforts to stay in touch, and wrote regularly for many years after our time in Durham together.

    He was a wonderful fund of stories, had an amazing memory for the most arcane of facts, and had a huge affection for St Chad’s College and its traditions. Get him into his stride and he could entertain for hours. Affable and gregarious, he was a great companion if you were lucky enough to be chosen to be on high table when he was in for dinner.

    My wife Nina remembers working with him (she in a lowly role as a scene shifter) on a production of Lucretia Borgia at the Caedmon Hall in Durham, and he would throw back that huge chest and sing his heart out. A stalwart of DICLOG, later DULOG, the university light opera company, he loved operetta.

    Ben was absolutely a one-off; I’ll miss him hugely.
    Chris Gwilliam

  2. 3 May 2009 12:24 am

    Off topic (slightly) – Durham cathedral are, as of yesterday, evicting the current (dreadful) bookshop owners and will be running the shop themselves from next year.

  3. Dale Nelson permalink
    12 June 2009 6:50 pm

    I’ve run across your blog before, Steve. Now I come across it in connection with the loss of Benedikt Benedikz, with whom I corresponded since Feb. 2008 about , Ben’s dramatic productions of Charles Williams’s The House of the Octopus and Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral, dialect words, the bad behavior of Evelyn Waugh, the romances of Rider Haggard and John Buchan, Iceland and William Morris, university life, Shakespeare, folklore, and more.

    What fun our emails (and a few letters) were. He sent me a postcard photo of J. R. R. Tolkien, which as I recall he said showed the man as Ben remembered him from his student days. (Our correspondence began after a piece by Ben appeared in the Tolkienian ‘zine Amon Hen.)

    Ben’s article on Ludwig Holberg will appear in The New York Review of Science Fiction.

    I’m an adherent of the Lutheran Confessions (I suppose that was something else Ben and I discussed a little!) but a fan of Seraphim Rose.

    • 12 June 2009 7:35 pm

      Perhaps you should edit and publish the e-mails. I’m sure they would be interesting to others as well.

      • Dale Nelson permalink
        12 June 2009 8:56 pm

        Oh, there wouldn’t be sufficient weight to most of them, at least, as to justify editing and publishing the emails, supposing the family okayed that; but receiving a message from Ben was always a highlight of the day. Much of our literary discussion was not much more profound than “You like that? I do too!” (I thought I had read plenty of Rider Haggard, at 25-30 of the books, but Ben claimed 58!)

  4. Dale Nelson permalink
    4 July 2017 7:05 pm

    Steve, Ben entrusted to me his unpublished, but performed, version of Jóhann Sigurjónsson’s The Wish. This was performed at Durham in the 1960s. Email me if you’d like me to mail you a copy.

    Dale Nelson


  1. Spirituality in Orthodox Perspective: II | A vow of conversation | Khanya

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: