The New Zealand thread has sparked up again, which is one of the many signs one might adduce that I haven’t updated for longer than is good for the blog. In terms of backlog I appear to have now reached Leeds 2012, whose blogging feels rather redundant at such a remove, but which I will probably still do in summary form. The week before Leeds, though, I had a friend staying and took the opportunity to go and explore what is almost my local parish church, that of Saint Mary the Virgin, Iffley.1 Iffley church has had a lot of attention because it is a largely unaltered building of the 1160-1170s and is really rather splendid.2 As a result of this, there are already plenty of pictures of it on the web, most of whose photographers were more concerned with overall aspect than I was, of which perhaps this is the most complete.
The photographer of that and many of the others also had better light, but since when has that stopped me? Because the thing about this church that really jumps out for me is the west portal and its ornament.
It has teeth! Well, more accurately they’re beakheads, as getting close up makes clear, but that doesn’t make it less striking, disturbing or faintly like Gaudí. He probably wouldn’t have used Zodiacal figures with quite the same abandon, but only for having too much other stuff on his palette he wanted to fit in of course. The main feature of the scheme is ranks of serried chevrons, though, and that much is repeated on the other doors and on the arches of the original nave, though they all have their own special qualities.
There’s all kinds of other little features of interest in this rather lovely building, and it feels much less likely to peck you apart on the inside, where you can find crosses marked on the wall that are supposed to go back to the building’s consecration, a huge marble font, a newer chancel with a beautiful but slightly bowed cross-vault and details of where exactly to find the marks on the outside that are supposed to indicate the site of a dismantled cell made for an anchoress by the name of Annora who lived here between 1232 and 1241. I have looked for this and I can’t distinguish it, but I may yet go again. Certainly if you’re in the area you should, and you should let me know. Hopefully the photos explain why…
1. I think that I am actually in the parish of St Nicholas Littlemore, but it must be a close-run thing. Aha: in fact, this handy tool reminds me about St James the Apostle, Cowley, rather closer. Isn’t the web marvellous?
2. The architectural and historical details here are coming substantially from Ruth Nineham, Church of St, Mary the Virgin, Iffley: historical guide (Iffley 2006), which is available for purchase in the church and is a fairly reasonable twenty pages for your money, especially given that the money presumably goes to keeping up the building. The Gaudí allusion and the fear of being eaten by the architecture, however, are mine alone.