The word (from Greek) means a festival of renewal or dedication. It is a part of graduation, and is generally the ceremony at which honorary degrees are given. Though Encaenia are held in many places, the most famous in the world is at Oxford. It occurs just once a year, on a Wednesday morning in the ninth week of Trinity Term. Today.
The Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, the Heads of the Colleges, those holding Higher Doctorates, and various other officials process together into the Sheldonian Theatre, where the ceremony takes place. This year the procession began at Exeter, where the gowns had a champagne reception with (inevitably) strawberries and cream. They walked through Radcliffe Square, through the east door of the Bodleian, and into the Sheldonian.
Beforehand barriers are constructed and police are stationed along the route, and spectators gather to witness the procession. They process in silence. I had romantic imaginings of listening to the echoes of their footsteps on the cobbles, but a mob of animal rights protesters had romantic imaginings of yelling their message to the powerful of Oxford through a megaphone.
It was still glorious. To me–perhaps because I’m a bit old-fashioned, or perhaps because I live with a scholar and see the dedication and discipline required to attain higher learning–the sight of these men and women colorfully robed with their honors is a beautiful one.