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Monday, 4 August 2008

A Pagan Grove and Norman Church in Iffley

We have a new favorite walk from Oxford. Just a couple of miles up the Isis (the local name for the Thames), and past a nice riverside pub, is the little village of Iffley. Its main claim to fame is a fine Norman church built in the late 11th century that's is almost perfectly preserved. Early on, it changed hands from the local lord to an estate further away, and while the absentee owners paid for its upkeep, they didn't do much to change it, making it one of the most pristine Norman churches in the country.

The front is very Romanesque, and the door is decorated with an unusual partial zodiac, which I'll post on later with more pictures. There's also an atmospheric old cemetery and a 1,500 year-old yew tree. The local priest thinks it was part of a sacred pagan grove and that under the church there's probably an old Saxon church from the 5th or 6th century. Since early church builders liked to build in sacred groves, I'm thinking the Saxons cut down the center tree of the grove, which was probably as old then as this one is now, and built the church on top of it. You see this sort of behavior with mosques, churches, and synagogues in the Middle East depending on who won the latest war.

The surviving tree was probably little more than a sapling then, young when its religion was old, and escaped the notice of the Christians. Perhaps cutting down the central, most sacred tree in the grove was all that needed to be done to destroy it as a place of religious significance. I remember reading in some early Christian accounts where they destroyed sacred groves, and they usually only destroyed the main tree. The sole surviving sacred yew can be seen on the righthand side of both the photos of the church here.

2 comments:

mauro mateos said...

Saludos desde Esquel, Patagonia Argentina.
Mauro Mateos

laradunston said...

Stunning church! Must say, after three months in Italy my husband swears he can't ever enter or photograph another church in his life but I never grow tired of them. I'm hardly religious, just have a thing about the architecture - and in Italy, the art inside.