Looking up at the tower, we notice that it is a massive, imposing structure. It was no doubt designed to show the power of the Norman lord who built the church. There are openings to the bell chamber on all four sides, but only one of them has chevron carving surrounding it. The others have been left plain. They were all presumably intended to be treated in the same way but it seems that the money ran out before all the carving was completed. We know that Robert de S. Remy had to pay a vast Forest Fine of £100 in 1176, and this could well have meant that the completion of the church had to be hurried.
The battlements on top of the tower were probably not part of the original structure, but may have been erected in 1612 at the same time as those on the south wall, on which this date is inscribed. In the 1970’s a wholesale refacing of the tower was undertaken. It was only after the intervention of the architectural historian G.Zarnecki that the west front was saved from the same treatment. Instead it was given a coat of limewash which preserved the original carving.
The Site of Annora’s Cell
Further along, up towards the chancel and opposite the yew tree, there is a rough blind arch in the wall. This has been explained as a builders’ entrance, made to introduce the stone for the sedilia in the thirteenth century. But if there was not a hole already, it would seem to be a rather unnecessary trouble to make one, when the stone could have been brought through the church door in any case.
This hole, however, may have been the aperture through which Annora, an anchoress, viewed the altar in the church. We have documentary evidence that this lady was in Iffley from 1232-1241. A thirteenth century grave slab is still alongside the wall at the place where her cell will have been – between the yew tree and the chancel.
She was a high-born wealthy lady, the widow of Hugh de Mortimer, and there is a possibility that she was responsible for building the chancel. The hole in the wall was apparently filled up after her death, and the sedilia were built on the other side in the chancel.
A general comment by a serving Church Warden on the church as a whole and on Annora in particular is worth noting here: ‘I believe the church is a wonderful example of female spirituality, and I have argued that this is evidenced in the sculpture on the doors. It seems now to be generally accepted that the church’s original patron was Juliana of St Remy, a descendant through her mother of the powerful Clinton family of Kenilworth Castle, which helps to explain the enormous opulence of the building. Unmarried, she was lord of the manor of Iffley after her father’s death until her own death around 1189. So it is perhaps not surprising that some 40 years later, another spiritual female aristocrat, Annora, should have chosen to have her cell at Iffley, despite no known previous connection to the place’.
Notice here that the walls of the chancel have had to be shored up with buttresses at three different periods, because they are not nearly as solidly built as the rest of the church, indeed they are quite flimsy, and have caused the chancel to splay outwards.
On the right is the churchyard cross, mentioned in The Chancel (4).
Coming round on the outside of the chancel, we see high up in the apex of the East end wall there sits a small Norman window. Most probably this was taken from the original Chancel and reused when it was extended. This was a fairly common practice.