Last Sunday, I and Anna and Gerard took an afternoon trip to Iffley, a village tucked inside a southern suburb of Oxford, a lovely, hushed village, with thatched cottages (with wire constraining the thatch). The sun was out at first, in wide skies. The church was on church lane, the mill on mill lane. Good sensible town naming committee.
A few weeks ago, I went to a cello performance of the Bach suites at St. Barnabus, a neo-Byzantine Anglo-Catholic church in Jericho. While I was looking around the church, which is only half-completed with mosaics, my companion remarked that he found it interesting that England, which has so many churches, should have all the churches used more and more for secular events and losing their religious ties. It’s a sad sentiment, but Philip Larkin said as much in a poem I very much like.
(From “Church Going”:
And what remains when disbelief has gone?
Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky,
A shape less recognisable each week,
A purpose more obscure. I wonder who
Will be the last, the very last, to seek
This place for what it was…
A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognized, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie round.)
This church, St. Mary’s in Iffley, was entirely deserted on a Sunday afternoon. We were the only ones in the thousand-year-old space, wandering down the nave, kept company by the plaques on the wall with the dates of birth, marriages and death dating from the eighteenth century. There was a note about a thirteenth century female anchorite who set up a shack against the building, but we couldn’t find her remnants, and we moved on. (I apologize for all the churches and graveyards. It seems like my sight-seeing has been quite grannyish, hasn't it? I haven't yet taken a camera to the King's Arms...)
Onward over the lock, alongside the Thames (at this lock the river is called the Isis), past the pleasure canal boats with their tiny tables and miniature lunch parties. The sun hid. Winter came. We stopped to have a cheeky half-pint at a pub called the Isis, a Georgian building with no hearty wooden sign and good Cotswalds cider. There’s folk music on the weekends here, and a bonfire planned for the fifth of November. I’m planning to return wearing a thick, ugly knitted sweater. Penny for the old Guy?