This was originally the chancel, and it is where the church originally ended, probably with a straight wall ( see the Chancel for comment on the original position of the altar)
The ornament is more elaborate here than in the rest of the church. At each corner there are double colonnettes set against the wall with rosettes and other carvings set between. On the south side the bird on its nest must surely be a reference to Psalm 84 v.3 ‘The sparrow hath found her an house, and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young; even thy altars, O Lord of hosts’. These ‘engaged colonettes’ were very unusual at the period. But there are contemporary ones in the crypt of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, which suggests that someone who had been there on pilgrimage might have brought the notion to Iffley.
The roof of the Chancel is ornamented with chevron ribs leading up to a boss on which is carved a dragon and four cat-like heads. The dragon may be a symbol of new life, since after shedding its skin it was said to emerge with a new one. In the centre of the boss is a hole, indicating that a lamp, or a pyx containing the sacrament could have been suspended from it, hanging over the altar beneath.
An interesting interpretation of the boss by a serving Church Warden is as follows: ‘The dragon in the centre of the choir vault is seen to be scraping off its skin as described in medieval bestiaries, which explain that this symbolises the Christian sloughing off its old sinful self, with God’s grace through the Eucharist. The winged snake or dragon therefore probably represents our spiritual selves but can also represent Christ as the serpent raised up on a stick in the Sinai desert by Moses. The latter was a very popular symbol or Old Testament type for Christ in the twelfth century. Either or both interpretations are equally appropriate given the corbel’s position and symbolic sculptures or pictures very often had more than one “meaning”. We have, in many Christian traditions, become Christlike in the aftermath of receiving his body and blood’.
Note the changes that have been made recently in this part of the church in order to facilitate more flexible use: the removal of old pews and their replacement with movable oak benches; the removable oak altar rail.