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Echoes of the 12th century resonated from the walls of the church of St Mary the Virgin, Iffley read more
A team of conservationists worked for several weeks on the 12th century stonework around the church. They showed us how they were protecting the carvings, and let at least 250 people climb their scaffolding read more
A Celebration was held in honour of Annora, an anchoress who lived just outside Iffley Church during the 1230s read more
A Saturday in May found Iffley churchyard quietly populated by artists. Wherever one looked, around the churchyard and inside the church, there were people drawing, painting, looking at the building and its surroundings. Read more
Two plays written in the 14th and 15th centuries for members of Guilds of shipwrights, fishermen and mariners to act during their time off from practicing the ‘skills and mysteries’ of their craft were performed by Iffley's very own angels, Noah and children.. . read more
Hundreds of people joined a 3-day celebration of THE STONES OF IFFLEY The geological secrets of the building were revealed, and so was the working world of the 12th century craftsmen, the hazards and wonders of working in the conservation of historic stone, and much more. read more
WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO GO TO Iffley Church IN 1530-1560?
Notes on a lecture given by Professor Nicholas Orme for Living Stones, Iffley, on 15 March 2020..
As Professor Orme plunged us into the middle ages and led us, metaphorically, inside the church on a Sunday morning in 1530, we didn’t quite realise how close we were to dramatic changes in our own lives. On the eve of lockdown, Nicholas Orme gave us a virtual experience of going to church in Iffley before and during the Reformation. He immersed us in the physical, social and theological world of our forebears, starting with the dipping of our hands in holy water as we entered the church, crossed ourselves and looked up to the candle-lit crucifix above the screen that separated us villagers from the priest in the chancel. We rubbed shoulders with the labourers, farmers, gentry and nobility of the village as we jostled to catch a glimpse of the Elevation of the Host and the Real Presence. We discovered that those of us who could read were following the service in our own precious but random prayer-books where the Mass was explained in English, and that we were mumbling our own prayers to the accompaniment of the Latin intoned by the priest and the parish clerk.
The Reformation banished the visual focus of our worship, the statues, crosses, wall-paintings and stained glass, and turned the church into a schoolroom where the walls were painted with texts: the Ten Commandments, Creed and Lord’s Prayer, and adorned with the Royal Coat of Arms to remind us that the head of the church was no longer the Pope but the monarch.
When Iffley Church was first built it was part of an international church. Henry VIII transformed it to a national church. Today we are living through a period of unprecedented change.
See Nicholas Orme’s forthcoming book, Going to Church in Medieval England.
CONVICTIONS, LOYALTIES, IDENTITIES: THE EXPERIENCE OF THE ENGLISH REFORMATION
Notes on a lecture given by Dr Lucy Wooding for Living Stones, Iffley, on 3 October 2020
Records of the rocky course of the English Reformation written at the time by those in power give a ‘birds-eye view’ of the theological and political edicts pronounced by Henry VIII and his children, but Dr Wooding scoured the much rarer evidence for what it was like for ordinary people living in Iffley and 9,000 parishes throughout the kingdom. She searched engravings, missals, church buildings and churchwardens’ accounts, and described a complicated story of anxiety, passive resistance and slow adaptation.
Henry VIII broke away from the Roman Catholic church in 1533. Thereafter in quick succession he ordered the dissolution of 800 religious houses, the adoption of the English Bible and the removal of religious images. Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth swung from Protestant to Catholic and back again. In 1570 every parish was encouraged to purchase a copy of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. This was illustrated with powerful images of Protestant martyrs being saved while Catholics, indulging in superstition, were damned. Most ordinary people could not read the text but the woodcuts were vivid. What was it like for them living through change of this magnitude?
There is plenty of evidence that before the Reformation parish churches were in a flourishing state. Roger Martin went to church in Long Melford, Suffolk, before and during the Reformation years. He described in his churchwarden’s accounts what religious life was like during the restoration of Catholicism under Mary, and his writing is deeply imbued with nostalgia for beautiful decoration and its symbolic meaning, for music, processions, and worship that brought the community together. At St Laurence’s Church, Reading, parishioners (and perhaps pilgrims to the Abbey) had donated money for a new screen and font in the 1520s. They had raised £14.3s.0d to gild the tabernacle in 1519, and in 1526 they paid for a new painting of the Transfiguration behind the high altar. This suggests that people were investing not just money but love and attention. Although the Mass was said in Latin, sermons and some prayers were in English, and uneducated people learned the Bible stories through wall paintings as at South Newington and Great Tew.
It is apparent that the Dissolution of the Monasteries was deeply disturbing for ordinary people. In 1536 at least 30,000 people (out of a population of 3 million) joined the Pilgrimage of Grace in protest against the religious upheavals. Besides their fury that monasteries were being destroyed, there was real fear that parish churches were next for the chop. Since obedience to the monarch was generally considered a religious duty some of the dreaded destruction was quietly pre-empted. Between 1538-46 St Laurence, Reading, sold most of its plate. In 1549 its stained glass windows were replaced with plain glass. At Long Melford the alabaster altar from the Lady chapel altar was sold to the Clopton family for safekeeping. A Missal used in the Salisbury diocese shows clearly that the injunction to eradicate every reference to the Pope or to Purgatory was followed, but the offending words were defaced in such a way that they could still be read.
Some pre-Reformation images survived. Fonts in a number of churches have the Seven Sacraments carved round them, still recognisable but slightly defaced as at Cley-next-the-Sea, Norfolk. At St Catherine’s Church, Ludham, Norfolk, the Rood Loft was taken down under an edict of Edward VI, but the Passion was painted on boards over the Chancel arch in the reign of Mary only to be obscured under Queen Elizabeth by a canvas cloth bearing a painted Royal Coat of Arms. Even this disappeared under whitewash in the Puritan reforms of the 17th century and was not discovered until 1879. At All Saints Morston, Norfolk, the painted screen still has the figures of the four Evangelists and the four Fathers of the Church, though the papal tiara of St Gregory and the cardinal’s hat of St Jerome were scrubbed out.
Here at Iffley, Johanna Lewis of the family who rebuilt Court Place in stone, was arraigned before a Bishop's Court in 1596 for her refusal to abide by the new doctrine. She was reported as now content to go into the church, ".... but as yet not thoroughly satisfied in her conseyence [conscience] to receive the Communion". Suspicion of each other’s forms of worship still lingers even today.
 1596 March 12 Register of the Bishop's Court c Johanna Lewes, wife of John Lewes of I ".... but as yet not thoroughly satisfied in her conseyence to receive the Communion" as transcribed by Edward Marshall on p 150 of the 1870 edn of his An Account of the Township of Iffley