Abbey of St Helier cross

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Elizabeth Castle

This article by Emile Guiton was first published in the 1960 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

Cross unveiled

On 10 July 1959 a simple granite cross marking the site of the Abbey of Saint Helier was unveiled, dedicated and consecrated at Elizabeth Castle.

In the year 1155 William Fitz-Hamon founded the Abbey of Saint Helier in the Islet.

In 1179 Rotrou, Archbishop of Rouen, affiliated the Abbey with that of our Lady of the Vow, near Cherbourg. The Abbey of Saint Helier was reduced to the status of Priory.

On the occasion of the visit to Jersey by His Majesty King Charles II in 1649 he was accompanied by a large following. This included Wenceslaus Hollar, a Bohemian artist, who made four small etchings of the Castle. One of these, dated 1651 and here reproduced, shews the position of the Abbey. This was situated on the area that later became the parade square. If it were not for this etching we could not determine the exact site because during the civil war, in I6SI, on 9 or 10 November, the Priory Church was destroyed by an explosion.

The cross

Bombardment

Jean Chevalier, in his journal, gives a description of the bombardment of the Castle and the destruction of the Church. Colonel Heane, in charge of the forces besieging the Castle, brought over with him three mortars and three hundred grenades or bombs. The bombs for the great mortar weighed 450 pounds each and contained a charge of between 30 and 40 pounds of powder.

These mortars were mounted at the foot of Saint Helier's Hill, near the sea and right opposite the Castle. At first the bombs fell short, but the third which attained the Castle fell onto the roof of the old church in the Lower Ward and, having pierced its vaulting, entered the space below, where eight barrels of powder had been stored. They exploded and totally destroyed the church, the cisterns nearby, and the adjoining buildings with their stores. Sixteen men were killed and ten wounded.

A fragment of one of these bombs is on view at the Museum.

Model

The making of the cross was under the control of the Public Works Committee of the States of the Island and from a model made by E S Le Feuvre, supplied by the Museum of the Societe Jersiaise.

Working drawings, keeping the proportions similar to the scale model, were prepared by C Warren, Assistant Road Surveyor. To these were added a double-stepped octagonal platform and a stone tablet bearing the inscription ‘Site of the Abbey of Saint Helier AD1155’.

The stone used was collected from salvage stored at the Public Works stone depot yard at La Saline, St John, and each stone was selected to match in colour and texture. This type of granite no doubt originally came from Mont Mado Quarries. One of the department's employees, Louis Chataignere, at La Saline Stone Depot, carried out the cutting and dressing of the stone work. The transportation of the cross and stepped-base was undertaken by employees of the Main Roads Department, who also carried out the erection of the work at the castle.

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