The Creation and Deluge, Iffley’s Mystery Play

Midsummer at Iffley Church was celebrated with a touch of madness. 

A trumpeter on the church tower, and a serpent in the churchyard

The village found itself – somewhat startlingly – embracing the presence of the Holy Trinity (all women), Angels, Devils and a pair of nudists. No, they only felt naked. It wasn’t as mad as all that. Everyone warmed to an amiable and hard-working farmer who claimed to be 600 years old and had the endearing habit of calling his wife ‘Meanie’. Even the yokels, sitting on straw bales and gazing at the west front of the church glowing pinky-gold in the setting sun, were transported back 600 years as they ‘met’ their forebears in the village and witnessed scenes from a medieval mystery play that told of the Creation, the Fall and the Deluge.

Adam, Eve and the Heavenly Host photo: Rob Farrands

The scenes were written in the 14thand 15thcenturies for members of Guilds of shipwrights, fishermen and mariners to act during their time off from practicing the ‘skills and mysteries’ of their craft. The lilt and vocabulary of the language was unfamiliar but extraordinarily expressive and beautiful. It was perfectly clear what was being said. The subject matter was shockingly topical. Were our forebears really as appalled by mankind’s devastation of the natural world and the wreckage caused by flooding as we are today? Were any of them capable of building a boat? If so, could the boat possibly have housed hundreds of pairs of animals and their fodder as well as a factious little human family for weeks and months?

Rain is on the way! Don’t panic! photo: Ron Cosford

There is no question about the quality of the acting, the music, the costumes and the staging. David Wiles, the Director of the Play, worked tirelessly with his talented troupe. And they pulled together, throwing themselves into months of painstaking rehearsals. They have been showered with compliments. Kate said, ‘I’m sure that when the project was conceived [the] objectives were focused on celebrating our beautiful Church and sharing it with the community. This was achieved in spades but just to add that we’ve had so much fun as a family being involved and we’ve made new friends and built on friendships as a direct result. I’m certain others have experienced the same.’  Others commented that, ‘the music was superb; the weekend was a triumph! The acting was a much higher standard than I had expected of amateurs from the local community. The spectators, helpers, performers all became part of one whole. It was part of a tradition in and around the church and the church hall that binds the wider community. It was deeply moving. The costumes were stunning. The children stole the show. The refreshments were Five Star!’ Donations totalling £113 were raised in support of the Rose Hill Junior Youth Club whose children and leaders had thrown themselves into acting, making the animal masks and enjoying a special performance at the Rose Hill Community Centre, as well as providing the interval canapés.

Minstrels from the medieval band, Ghaetta

Everyone helped in so many different ways, not least the PCC who generously funded the hire of the Church Hall for rehearsals. When people from outside say, ‘how lovely to be welcomed here,’ this is due to a warmth that seeps, mysteriously, through the whole community of Iffley and Rose Hill from our ancient and beautiful church. As for the medieval presentation of the stories of the Creation, Fall and Deluge, people spoke of stark new insights they had gained such as the fallen archangel, Lucifer, and his envy of The Almighty; the finality of Adam and Eve’s banishment from Paradise; the hint of redemption through ‘the child of a maid’. The idea of God, vengeful or forgiving, is tricky for 21st century Christians just as it must have been for survivors of the Great Flood celebrated in the earliest legends of the people of the Middle East. How much do we care about other people’s calamities? Is the future in our hands or at the mercy of something far greater?