Sharing our church with visitors

‘My small efforts are enormously repaid by the pleasure of sharing our lovely church with visitors.’ Patrick captured, in a nutshell, what Living Stones, our outreach and education programme, is all about.

The red-shirted team of volunteers ran two very different events in May. Both events aimed to deepen our understanding and enjoyment of our beautiful church. Both welcomed people living in the village and beyond and invited them to feel personally involved in Iffley’s heritage.

The first was a lecture given by Dr Malcolm Thurlby, a distinguished architectural historian from York University, Toronto. By tracing architectural features of St Mary’s Iffley, such as the beakhead carvings, the use of Tournai marble, blind arcading and the plan of the baptistery with its three great doorways, and linking these to other churches and religious foundations built by the Clinton family and others in the 12th century, he took us scampering round England, Normandy and the Low Countries to see ‘our’ contemporaries in both design and vision. In particular he whetted our appetites for a visit our neighbour, St Peter’s in the East, now the Library of St Edmund Hall, where it seems likely that our stone carvers had learned their craft.

Visitors to the second event were welcomed personally by our indefatigable volunteers. They were guided round the church and churchyard, followed children’s trails, joined tours of the belltower and enjoyed sumptuous refreshments. This event was held in conjunction with Oxfordshire Art Weeks and focused not only on the recent works of art by John Piper, Roger Wagner and Nicholas Mynheer, but also offered the unusual opportunity to help create a new work of art. The extremely ancient yew tree in the churchyard provided the inspiration for this project. Children and adults made tracings of their hands and wrote down their reflections on the life of the tree, their wishes, prayers and dreams. They then decorated these and artist Kassandra Isaacson began the work of creating a collage around a very evocative image of the tree. Children visiting Iffley with their schools in July will add their hand prints to the image, and it will be a major feature of the OPT Open Doors weekend here on 9th and 10th September.

Between now and September, though, there are two major events at St Mary’s. The sheltercoat work will be taking place from early July. The conservators will be making a film of the process. On 9th September they will invite us to see the work close-up and give us a talk about what they have been up to.

Before that, on Saturday 5th August, the ancient walls of St Mary’s will resound again with the evocative music of the Middle Ages. The day will include a lecture-recital, a workshop in plainchant, and a service of Vespers. For details go to the Living Stones Events page

Norman children welcoming our visitors

Hands-on fun with the model of the church

Working on the Art Project

The image of the Iffley yew tree at the start of the Art Project