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Winter 2009 | Volume 32, Number 1 | Campus

SPU Staff Member Joins Ceremony at C.S. Lewis Home

“Blue Plaque” honor

The Kilns, home of author C.S. Lewis
The Kilns, home of C.S. Lewis, was designated a “Blue Plaque” historic site almost 45 years after the author’s death.

Deep in the middle of England, among the narrow, twisting lanes of the village of Headington, just outside the university city of Oxford, lies the former home of a man known for reasoned Christian thought and great flights of imagination. The Kilns, as the house is called, is where Clive Staples Lewis spent the last 33 years of his life, and where he penned The Screwtape Letters, Mere Christianity, and The Chronicles of Narnia.

Today a Christian study center owned and operated by the C.S. Lewis Foundation of Southern California, The Kilns is also a place of pilgrimage for visitors from around the world. Some of them are children. And for them, there is no doubt that The Kilns is what Lewis’ former secretary, Walter Hooper, calls “the fountainhead of Narnia.”

Now, thanks in part to a major renovation assisted by Seattle Pacific University’s Kim Gilnett ’74 and Don Yanik, The Kilns has been named by the Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board as a “Blue Plaque” historic site. The rare designation, granted to places only with the highest level of historic significance, puts the home and its famous occupant in the company of fellow recipients J.R.R. Tolkien, Sir John Betjeman, Barbara Pym, Elizabeth Goudge, and other Oxford luminaries.

Gilnett, fine arts marketing associate at Seattle Pacific, has made a study of Lewis’ life. He has also spent the past 16 summers at The Kilns, nine of them devoted to helping coordinate a workforce of 200 volunteers in restoring the house. A theatre set designer and chair of the Theatre Department at SPU, Yanik studied photographs and interviewed past lodgers of The Kilns to plan and furnish each room as it was when Lewis was in residence from 1930 to 1963.

Gilnett was at The Kilns when Hugo Brunner, Lord Lieutenant of Oxfordshire, presented the Blue Plaque on July 26, 2008. “This was recognition of Lewis’ incredible contribution to academic scholarship and, through the Narnia books and now the Disney movies, to popular culture,” says Gilnett. “Here’s a man who used his gifts to the fullest. Few authors could write about goodness as successfully as he could.”

Vacationing in England, SPU Assistant Vice President for External Relations Kenneth Cornell ’85 and his family visited The Kilns the day before the Blue Plaque ceremony. A British television crew covering the event interviewed the Cornell daughters, Skye, 12, and Sara, 9, who had been reading the Narnia stories and were conducted on a tour of the home by Gilnett. “[It’s] so interesting to be able to see where [C.S. Lewis] actually sat and came up with all those ideas,” Skye Cornell told a British TV audience.

“People sacrifice to get to The Kilns,” says Gilnett, who leads classes, morning devotions, and tours for groups at-tending summer seminars at the Lewis home. “I’ve seen people weep openly because they are so moved to visit the place where Lewis lived and wrote. It’s not a museum, but a place of current scholarship and ministry.”

—Photo by Dick Makin

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