Jude walks a few miles north and comes to an old barn called the Brown House. He climbs a ladder onto the roof, where two men are working. He tells them he is trying to find Christminster, and they say it is sometimes visible from the roof, but not today. Jude decides to wait until the weather clears, hoping to catch a glimpse of the city – which he thinks of as “The Heavenly Jerusalem” – before going home.
Jude shows his tendency for melodrama, idealism, and using Biblical language to describe earthly things. He builds up Christminster as his lifelong dream based only on hearsay and Phillotson’s presence there, so it is almost inevitable that he will be disappointed someday.
Dusk falls and Jude prays to see Christminster, and eventually he sees distant lights and spires, “either directly seen or miraged in the peculiar atmosphere.” Then he goes home, trying not to be afraid of the dark. In the following weeks Jude dreams of Christminster, romanticizing not just the beautiful city but the “mentally shining ones therein.”
It is significant that Jude may not actually be seeing Christminster itself, but perhaps an imagined halo of light or another distant town. He has no idea about the real Christminster, but builds up a specific image in his mind.
One day Jude returns to the Brown House at dusk and waits for night to fall, watching for Christminster from the roof. Instead of seeing individual lights he sees a vague glow this time, but he imagines Phillotson in the light like a holy figure. Jude then imagines a sound of bells, or the voice of the city saying “We are happy here.” Jude sees some men carrying coal pass by on the road, and he asks if they are coming from Christminster. They say they aren’t.
Christminster is a fictional town, but it is based on the university town of Oxford, England. Hardy himself was too poor to attend the university there, so in this way Jude’s struggles are semi-autobiographical. It is ironic, considering Phillotson’s later presence in the novel, that he starts out as a “holy figure” for Jude.
The men tell Jude that the people of Christminster read books in languages that he will never understand, and it is “nothing but learning” there. A man goes on to describe the religion, music, and beauty of the city, though he admits that he has never been there. Jude heads home alone, suddenly feeling older and deciding that Christminster will be the goal of his life. He declares to himself that it is a “city of light” where “the tree of knowledge” grows, and decides that it will suit him perfectly.
This is a comedic moment as the man goes into great detail about Christminster despite never having been there, but it is also tragic for Jude, as he is now orienting his life around secondhand information. Jude seems already well-versed in Biblical language, and again he associates Christminster with a holy city, a kind of “Heavenly Jerusalem.”