Oxford, UK - University Church of Saint Mary the Virgin; Fitchburg, MA - Thompson Hall, Fitchburg State University

University Church of St Mary the Virgin Oxford 2-2.jpg


Oxford, UK - University Church of Saint Mary the Virgin; Fitchburg, MA - Thompson Hall, Fitchburg State University

Catalog Entry

The Reeve’s Tale from The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, the photograph of St. Mary’s Church of Oxford University, and the photograph of Thompson Hall at Fitchburg State University have a connection that is revealed when looking in-depth at the cultural significance of both locations as well as the text. In The Reeve’s Tale, Chaucer tells us a story about a miller that steals from the townspeople. Not only does the miller partake in thievery, but he also has a negative view of the university students that are included in the tale.

In Dr. Tracy’s photo, she captured a monstrous gargoyle overlooking Oxford University. The gargoyle follows the typical definition of a gargoyle, as its mouth is used as a water spout. Looking down upon the university as well as “spitting” down on to the university’s property is a fitting image to attach to The Reeve’s Tale as the miller has negative thoughts towards the university students: “The gretteste clerkes been noght wisest men" (Chaucer Line 4054). This quotation in the story by Symkyn, the miller, shows just how lowly he thinks of men that look towards a fancy education as a means to attain wisdom. Combined with the fact that the miller has repeatedly stolen mill and recently increased the amount stolen by a hundredfold, this photo and text pairing work well as the gargoyle looks down on to the campus.

Thompson Hall was built in 1896 and used as the only building on the campus of the State Normal School (previous name of school before Fitchburg State). The building was set on top of a hill with the entrance facing directly towards Myrtle Avenue. This was a beautiful site to see as you were driving north up North Street or Myrtle Avenue. However, after the building of Hammond Hall, the rest of the city was almost blocked off by the windowless brick side of the building facing North Street and Myrtle Ave (Jackson). This symbolized the relationship and the separation between the city and the university.

As of today, the neighborhood that Thompson Hall faces is the ninth most dangerous neighborhood in the city ("Fitchburg, MA: Crime Rates"). According to the FBI’s 2016 Uniform Crime Report, the violent crime rate in Fitchburg sits at the tenth highest per capita in all of Massachusetts ("50 Mass Communities"). The crime rate around Thompson Hall reminds us of how lawless Symkyn is with his meal thievery.

The interesting and ironic part of all of this is that John G. Thompson was quite the poet while also the first principal of the State Normal School. In line with how Symkyn looks at how one must be educated, Thompson says, “Learn by doing,” yet he was the principal of a formal higher education institution (Jackson). Imagine if John G. Thompson could travel into the story of The Reeve’s Tale. Could Principal Thompson influence Symkyn in a positive way? Would Symkyn see that formal education versus “street” education is not as black and white as he had previously thought? Beyond that, what if Principal Thompson travelled forward in time to when Hammond Hall was built? Would he allow for the building to be built with only brick facing the city? One would like to think that Thompson would be the saving grace to both of these situations. However, time travel is not available to us. This is why it is imperative that we continue to preserve all types of cultural heritage. We must continue to learn from our past to make our present the best that it can be.


“50 Mass. communities with most violent crime per person.” WCVB 5 ABC, wcvb.com/article/50-mass-communities-with-most-violent-crime-per-person/12485818.  

Chaucer, Geoffrey. "The Reeve's Tale." Translated by Larry D. Benson, 2008, sites.fas.harvard.edu/~chaucer/teachslf/rvt-par.htm. 

“Fitchburg, MA: Crime Rates.” Neighborhood Scout, neighborhoodscout.com/ma/fitchburg/crime. 

Jackson, Asher. Personal interview. 17 Nov. 2017.

Catalog Entry Author(s)

Aaron Canterbury, Student, Fitchburg State University

Research Assistant(s)

Kimberly DiManno, Student, Fitchburg State University


Kisha G. Tracy
Allison St. Peter, Student, Fitchburg State University

Accessible Description of Image(s)

First image: A decayed gargoyle watches over a campus with three entrances and pillars on top.
Description by: Makayla Dones, Student, Fitchburg State University


“Oxford, UK - University Church of Saint Mary the Virgin; Fitchburg, MA - Thompson Hall, Fitchburg State University,” Cultural Heritage through Image, accessed April 13, 2024, https://culturalheritagethroughimage.omeka.net/items/show/17.

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