Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Narnia, The Holy Club, and Tattoos

Written by: on September 2, 2023

It is true that Americans do not know what old is. My teenage children often say that I am “old” after all. Ageism aside, being a sub-250 year old country, does not lend one to truly fathom the age and history of a 1,111 year old (or more) city like Oxford [1]. It can certainly be a dry task recounting the places and people with that much history, but that is not the case in Paul Sullivan’s book, The Secret History of Oxford. With wit and humor, Sullivan invites the reader on a journey of the twists, turns and hidden gems all around. The city is most famous for Oxford University, there are many more interesting places and people in this historic city. 

Oxford is Narnia?

Many influential people, from professors, politicians and religious leaders, have called Oxford home. Sullivan comically summarizes that, “In writing of a city that has shaken hands with the Good, the Bad and the Ugly and most other members of Britain’s Hall of Fame, it is hard to do justice to the tidal wave of celebrity that has crashed upon Oxford down the centuries”[2]. One such celebrity is C.S. Lewis, who called Oxford home from 1925-1954 as a professor of Magdalen College [3]. Interestingly, it seems that Oxford may have been the inspiration for Narnia, itself, even down to the light post, lion and “fawn creatures” [4]. 

Oxford Colleges 

All of this inspiration is made possible by Oxford University. The University is actually made up of forty-four colleges that have their own unique history and notable figures [5]. Oxford did not always have the notable reputation that it currently enjoys. During the early nineteenth century, it was possible to gain a degree from Oxford with a mere interview for young men of means by answering a few questions correctly[6]. The University has since raised the academic rigor of the programs in the colleges. 

One of the more famous of the colleges is Christ Church. This college is particular interest to those who align with the Methodist tradition, as this is the college of John Wesley and many others who founded the Methodist religious movement. John and his brother, Charles, would meet in a small group with other students. Their society was called, “The Holy Club” as they participated in religious acts such as daily prayer and visiting inmates in prison [7]. 

No Historic Tattoo’s in Oxford 

The city of Oxford has a rich history full of celebrities and academic accomplishments, as well as coining such phrases as “hocus hocus”[8]. It is difficult to believe that a city that is over one thousand years old does not have an historic tattoo studio for those who want to memorialize their Oxford experience with ink. Sullivan did not mention any places to visit, so I turned to my favorite internet search engine only to discover that the oldest tattoo studio was founded in 1973 [9]. While this studio is ready to make an appointment, it is difficult to believe that tattoo’s were not a greater part of Oxford’s history. 


Oxford is a city with a rich history within and beyond the university that makes the city famous. Many celebrities and oddities have called Oxford home and Paul Sullivan offers an engaging summary that brings the city to life. The Secret History of Oxford is an engaging primer to deepen one’s understanding and enjoyment of the city, unless one is interested in getting a tattoo to remember their adventure. Perhaps, Sullivan will consider a sequel to this book. 

‌1. Paul Sullivan, The Secret History of Oxford (Cheltenham, Gloucestershire: The History Press, 2013) p.10-15. 

2. Ibid., 103. 

3. Ibid., 129. 

4. Alice Loxton, “The Secrets of Oxford’s Streets And What Lies Beneath the University.” History Hit. Youtube Video, 9:06 https://www.youtube.come/watch?v=Jck5VOnNL0s

5. Sullivan, 40. 

6. Ibid., 43. 

7. Jim Godfrey, “John Wesley” posted on January 2, 2019. https://www.chch.ox.ac.uk/blog/john-wesley. 

8. Sullivan, 234. 

9. https://www.tattoo.co.uk/lionels-tattoo-studio#:~:text=Lionel’s tattoo studio, Oxford’s original,, above a ladies’ hairdresser.

About the Author


Chad McSwain

Chad is a systematic creative serving in pastoral ministry for nearly 20 years, Chad is a professional question-asker and white-board enthusiast, who enjoys helping people discover their own passions and purpose. A life-long learner, he has a B.A, Philosophy - Univ. Central Oklahoma, M.A Theology - Fuller Seminary, M.Div. Perkins School of Theology at SMU and is pursuing a Doctor of Leadership - George Fox University. He is an ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church, currently serving as Lead Pastor of Whitesboro UMC. Chad and his wife, Brandi live in Prosper, Texas along with their three children, two pugs and a chameleon.

12 responses to “Narnia, The Holy Club, and Tattoos”

  1. mm David Beavis says:

    Hey Chad,

    So…you down to get tattoos in Oxford?

    Great summary! I am eager to walk the streets and get a feel for the inspiration of Narnia.

    Since you come from the United Methodist tradition, is there a greater sense of anticipation for being at Christ Church since this is where John Wesley was?

    • mm Chad McSwain says:

      Hey David!
      Yeah man! You getting a tattoo?

      Absolutely…I was in Oxford for one day about eight years ago while on a Wesleyan pilgrimage. I am looking forward to being at Christ Church and Oxford. This is the birth place of the Methodist movement so it is pretty exciting.

  2. Michael O'Neill says:

    My brother! I hope your summer treated you well and you and your family are in good health.

    My daughter calls me “old” on a regular basis and even a dinosaur on occasion… If she thinks I’m old, she wouldn’t even know what to do with Oxford…

    What made you go down the tattoo route? To Echo David’s comment, are you considering getting some ink overseas?

    • mm Chad McSwain says:

      Hey Michael!
      Looking forward to catching up!
      I am thinking about it. I was disappointed that there is not an historic place. I like my tattoos to have a story. 🙂
      You want in on this?

  3. mm Becca Hald says:

    Great summary Chad! I know what you mean about comparing our young country with cities like Oxford. One of the things I love to do when traveling is take pictures of my hand touching ancient buildings. The realization that I am in a place centuries or millennia older than the United States is humbling. At Monserrat, just outside of Barcelona, Spain, I sat in a prayer chapel built in the 11th century. It was so amazing to think about the men and women who had sat there before me, praying. I look forward to sitting in the dining hall at Christ Church and thinking about those who have sat there before us.

    • mm Chad McSwain says:

      Hi Becca
      I absolutely agree. The sense of history is one of the experiences I have when I travel out of the US. It is an amazing feeling to be in places where people have been for countless generations. Or, to eat in a dining hall where many, many notable people have broken bread. I am looking forward to it.

  4. Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

    Hi Chad, How was your summer? Great post and summary of Sullivan’s book. I, too, was intrigued with the fact that during the early nineteenth century you could get a degree from Oxford by answering a couple questions correctly. When I shared that with someone else as a newfound Oxford fact, they said maybe the author was using hyperbole and this was not actually true. I read it as true. What do you think?

    Also, curious about your paragraph on tattoos! That is interesting that Oxford didn’t have a tattoo studio until 1973. When did tattoo studios begin to show up in our human history?

    • mm Chad McSwain says:

      Hi Jenny

      I think it is true…it doesn’t surprise me given the class-structure at work. It made me curious how valuable a college degree was at that time? Perhaps it was merely the sample of approval on the nobility that the family already possessed anyway.

      I will certainly look into the history of tattoos, but it is quite ancient. When I was in Jerusalem this past year, I got a tattoo at Razzouks, which is 500 years old and has been passed down through their family. I was surprised that there was not something comparable in Oxford. Perhaps, tattoos do not mesh well with the academic vibes of the city.

  5. Tonette Kellett says:

    Hey Chad,

    I enjoyed your post… I’m looking forward to walking the very places that might have been the inspiration for Narnia itself! How awesome is that, right?!

    While I’m not Methodist, I do appreciate the heritage that Christ Church holds for you with the Wesleys. I know it will be an incredible feeling to stand where they stood.

    As for the tattoos… it made me smile to read that part of your post. Are you shopping for a spot to get a tattoo, I wondered?

    I’m looking forward to seeing you soon. Blessings!

  6. Kristy Newport says:

    I am joining the cohort in the curiousity about getting a tattoo. I am wondering what you would choose to have tatt’ed? Is this something you have been thinking about? It sounded like the tattoo you got on your other trip was well thought through/intentional.
    I hope you enjoy getting ready for the trip. My bag is already out…gotta get packing! See you soon!

  7. mm Audrey Robinson says:

    I enjoyed your post. Your enthusiasm for Oxford is palatable.

    Based on your post, I definitely want to visit Christ Church and the doorway or frame that was the inspiration for Narnia.

    In terms of the tattoo, I’ll wait in the nearest tavern or coffee shop.

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