The Patronage of Iffley

eccles todayThe patronage of Iffley church – a new line of enquiry by Mark Phythian-Adams

No-one visiting St. Mary’s church, Iffley, in Oxfordshire can fail to be struck by its scale and opulence compared with other Romanesque churches of similar ground plan, date and style in the region. Iffley is a very grand and sophisticated late Romanesque parish church. The masons (or perhaps the master mason) at Iffley had probably already worked on some major buildings, including the chapter house door in St. Frideswide’s Priory in Oxford, and possibly came originally from the great royal foundation of Reading Abbey. The four monolithic octagonal columns of Tournai “marble” in the tower arches (and the smaller one in the west front) at Iffley constitute the finest surviving example of the architectural use of Tournai marble in England. Other examples come from major buildings: octagonal columns are to be found in the cloisters at Rochester Cathedral and the great twelfth century Tournai marble in Wolvesey Palace. Tournai marble was also used for some very important church fixtures such as tombstones and fonts, including those at Winchester and Lincoln cathedrals. Its use and the subsequent development of Purbeck marble as its successor is associated with some important patrons of the arts in the twelfth century, perhaps especially Henry of Blois …

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