Oxford University's First Student Emo of Friesland

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Who Was Oxford University’s First Foreign Student? Meet Emo of Friesland

Oxford University's First Student Emo of Friesland

Emo of Friesland, 13th-century globetrotter, was the first foreign student to attend the University of Oxford. He was a theologian, priest, and scholar and had studied church law at the University of Paris In 1190, he became the first foreign student at the University of Oxford (whose name has survived, that is). This is his story.

Who Was Emo of Friesland?

Emo of Friesland (also known as Emo van Wittewierum in Germany and Emo van Bloemhof in the Netherlands) was born in 1175 AD close to Groningen. His family belonged to the Ommelanden elite, a part of Friesland (although surrounding areas belonged to Utrecht and Münster). 

Emo of Friesland - His Education and Travels

Emo of Friesland had attended an Ommelanden Benedictine monastery and later studied church law at the Universities of Paris. He was the first foreign student to attend the University of Oxford (c. 1190) and later continued his education at the French University of Orléans. After he studied, he became a teacher and schoolmaster in Northern Goringen (1200 AD) and a pastor in Huizinge. 

It’s believed that most of his trips were made on foot, and he probably stayed in monasteries or with clergymen. Part of his trip to England, however, had to be done by boat. To communicate with the local populations, he probably used Medieval Church Latin, Medieval Ensligh (old Frisian), and flawed French. 

The Chronicon (1203-1237) and Other Works

Emo of Friesland write a section of the Chronicon covering the years 1203 to 1237. It contains information about the abbey, a secular history of Groningen and Frisia, and an account of the Crsafes to the Holy Land. He explains he had copied a naval itinerary from a Frisian fleet, which went from the River Lauwers to Acre (this text is known as the De Itinere Frisonum), providing numerous details about the crusading motivations and naval voyage of the Frisians. 

Emo also wrote other works thought lost, including De anima (on the soul), Arbor vitiorum et virtutum (tree of vices and virtues), De differentia criminum (on different crimes) and De differentia virtutum politicarum et theologicarum (on the difference between political and theological virtues).

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