Durell's 1847 guidebook
Churches - 1
- Early conversion of Jersey to Christianity
- St Magloire
- St Helier the hermit
- Old insular chapels
- Consecration of the parish churches
- Episcopal jurisdiction
- St Helier's Church
- Improvements of the churchyard
- Maximilian Norreys
- Gertrude Amy
- Major Peirson
- De Rullecour
- Charles d'Auvergne
- Brigadier General Anquetil
- Eulogy of the late Dean Dupre
- His French translation of the Dying Christian to his Soul
After having finished the visit of the town of St Helier, and called the attention of the reader to some of the most prominent objects of interest or curiosity, we may conclude by devoting a few pages to the examination of the venerable Town Church of St Helier, and of other edifices which have been erected for the worship of God, as the wealth, the population, and the resources of the island increased.
The conversion of the Channel Islands to the Christian faith is of a very ancient date, and is most probably of a period anterior to the subversion of the Roman Empire in Gaul. It cannot be that Christianity should have spread through every part of the Empire, that a long list of martyrs and of Christian writers should have flourished,and that it should have been the religion of the State and of the emperors, without its beneficial influence having extended to the coasts of Gaul, and to the islands of the neighbouring ocean.
It is barely possible that its progress might have been slow in those remote dependencies, and that a great part of the Druidical superstitions of the country might have remained. It is also not unlikely that the confusion occasioned by the invasions of the northern barbarians who overwhelmed the Roman Empire might have eradicated much of the good seed which had been sown in former ages, but it could not have been a complete subversion of the true religion, nor could it have effected a general restoration of paganism.
After the establishment of the Franks in Gaul, things continued in that state till the end of the sixth century. It was then that the primitive Christians, who had formerly found an asylum in Wales, in Cornwall, and in Ireland, returned to reconvert Armorica, and the adjoining provinces of the Continent. Great numbers of the laity were then flying from Britain from the ravages of the Saxons into Armorica, where they founded a new country, and gave it the name of the land of their forefathers.
They were accompanied in their exile by several of the clergy, who carried before them the blessings of peace and civilisation to the benighted tribes of the earth. This accounts for so many British names of saints being still to be found in the names of families, and of parishes, such as Pengelly, Tremalga, Trehonnais, St Ouen, St Samson, St Budoc, St Brieuc, and Dinan. Some of those holy men settled in Jersey, and were abundantly successful in their mission. The honor of evangelising the Channel Islands belongs to St Magloire, who had succeeded St Samson in the see of Dol, which he resigned soon after, that he might devote himself to contemplation and to the propagation of the Gospel.
He founded a convent in the Isle of Sark, and then came over to Jersey, where he settled and built a small chapel, near the site of the present Grammar School of St Mannelier. There he closed his mortal career in peace amid the blessings of a grateful and religious people. Sixty years after his death his body was removed by one of the Armorican princes to the Abbey of Lihou, near Dinan in Britany, where it remained till the invasions of the Normans. It was then finally transferred to Paris, where it gave its name to the splendid church of St Bartholomew, and St Magloire.
The generous efforts of that holy man were afterwards more fully developed by Pretextatus, who spent the last ten years of his life in Jersey. He had been Archbishop of Rouen in Neustria, from which he had been ejected through the violence and the intrigues of Fredegunda, the Queen of Chilperic, one of the Kings of France. At last he was recalled to resume his high office, but he did not enjoy it long. The Queen sent an assassin, who cruelly murdered him in his church; the memory of the victim was subsequently honoured as that of a martyr.
Helier the hermit
Another Christian worthy, of a somewhat more recent period, was St Helier, the holy hermit, and afterwards the patron saint of the town which bears his name. There have been some doubts raised about the identity of that holy martyr, and some having pretended that it was the same person as St Hilary, the Bishop of Poitiers, while others have sought to identify him with one of the companions of St Marcou, the apostle of the peninsula of the Cotentin of which Jersey forms a part. Mr Falle, the historian of Jersey, shows the futility of the former opinion, and though the latter is supported by the authority of M De Gerville of Valognes, one of most celebrated antiquaries in France, I cannot persuade myself that his views are accurate.
"St Helier," says he "n'etait pas un hermite venu a Jersey, pour se cacher dans le creux d'un rocher, c'etait un des compagnons de S Marcouf, apotre du Cotentin, dont Jersey faisait partie. Il animait la mission de St Magloire comme Pretextat la consommee."
There is no proof that St Helier was not a hermit, and a martyr, as he has been represented by the constant tradition of so many ages, nor is there anything in the legend to render it improbable. He chose the hollow of a rock for his seclusion, and the broad expanse of heaven for contemplation, circumstances, which have always formed the favourite objects of the warm and enthusiastic mind. The same eccentricity exists even now, though it may show itself in many different ways. We may then easily conceive that St Helier was one of those vigorous spirits who wished to acquire a character for extraordinary sanctity, and thought that the most effectual way to obtain it was by the privations of solitude, and penance.
We may therefore assume that St Helier was a native of Jersey, and that he devoted himself to an ascetic course of life, which by its very singularity attracts the notice of the vulgar ; and that his Christian fortitude was further exposed to the bitter trial of falling into the hands of the Norman pagans, who mercilessly put him to death. His constancy in the faith, and his undaunted courage in suffering, excited the sympathy and the admiration of his countrymen, who raised his memory to that of a martyr, and a saint. There is no need to have recourse to either extraordinary virtue or talents. Any ordinary person, whose life had been so blameless, and his end so edifying, would anywhere be equally respected, and his memory not soon forgotten. This brings us to the building of a church, as near as could be to the seat of St Helier's martyrdom; which piety placed under his invocation.
Youngest parish church
It is well known that St Helier is reported to have been the last built of the 12 parish churches in Jersey. For several ages after its conversion, the island was covered with a great number of small and unimportant chapels. At a subsequent period the Island was divided into parishes, and the small chapels have gradually disappeared, till at present that in St Brelade's churchyard is the only one remaining. There is a list of dates of the consecrations of the different churches in Jersey, which are implicitly copied from one publication into another. Those dates are very ancient, and may be correct, but they are not extracted from the Livre Noir de Coutances, as commonly reported.
That book was compiled in 1274, and the church of St Helier was not consecrated till 1341. M De Gerville already mentioned, speaking of the Livre Noir, says :
- "Ma copie que j'ai eu tout le temps de copier; L'ecriture en est tres lisible. Je puis certifier que dans ce Cartulaire it n'y a pas un mot des pretendues consecrations des Eglises de Jersey, ni de celles de Guernesey, ni des pretendus Eveques consacrant. Les Eveques d'Avranches avaient des dimes et fiefs dans toutes les isles, mais il n'y eurent jamais de jurisdiction episcopale."
After this testimony very little importance can be attached to that list of dates and consecrations.
This is the place to say something of the episcopal jurisdiction established in these islands. They were annexed to Winchester by an Order of Elizabeth in 1565. This had been done before by a pretended Bull of Pope Alexander VI, in 1499. It is plain however that that Bull was never executed, and that arguments preponderate to induce a belief that it was a fabrication of a date subsequent to the Reformation. The jurisdiction of the bishop of Winchester exists in fact, but the Catholics pretend that no temporal authority has a right to alter the limits of any diocese, and that even granting the Bull of Alexander VI to be forged, the Bishop of Coutances still retains a dormant jurisdiction over the islands.
So late as the close of the last century that Bishop appointed a vicar general for Jersey. At present, however, the spiritual concerns of the Catholics in the Channel Islands are administered by their Bishop of London; but this is rather as a matter of mutual convenience, than as affecting the strict point of right.
The Church of St Helier has nothing to recommend it in point of architecture, or of situation. It is a plain and unassuming edifice, in character with the simplicity of the times, and the scanty resources of the island when it was erected. Like many other old buildings of the kind, it has received many additions, and pretended improvements, which have disfigured it, and given it an appearance so totally different from the humility of its general plan. It has been sometimes contemplated to rebuild it, but that would meet with serious objections, on account of the expense, and because it would interfere with the graves and occasion the destruction of many of the monuments.
Another circumstance which adds to the celebrity of a Christian Church is when it has been the theatre of some great event, or when it contains the ashes of men who had been eminent for their virtues. Except the martyrdom of its venerated patron and the high respect spontaneously paid to such unyielding virtue, the Church of St Helier has nothing historical to recommend it to particular observation. The inside of the church has an awkward and grotesque appearance from an absurd affectation of modern ornaments and improvements. The churchyard having become inconveniently crowded with human remains, it was closed in 1827, and another supplied by the parish in its place. The stones and monuments, were left standing, and consigned to the slowly wasting effects of time. After a lapse of twenty years, a great part of them has already crumbled to pieces, and most of the inscriptions on the stones are becoming illegible.
The churchyard has, however, just undergone a thorough embellishment, and is likely to be made a more attractive spot than could have ever been expected. It is intersected by a wide gravel walk that runs all round the church, and the high circular blind wall, which formerly concealed it from the street, has been removed, to be replaced by an elegant and massive iron balustrade. It is the work of Mr Joseph Le Rossignol, a native artist, whose good taste and mechanical talent do honour to the island.
The Church has a great number of monuments, but some of them are for individuals who had no other claims to remembrance than the gratitude of their executors to inscribe their names on marble. There are, however, some distinguished exceptions, one of Maximilian Norreys, of Ryecote, near Oxford, and the other of Gertrude Enys, of Enys, near Truro, in Cornwall, who died here in child bed in 1647. The inscriptions on those monuments have been copied in the last edition of Falle's History.
There is another monument which no visitor either a native or stranger can ever approach but with feelings of the most profound admiration, and the liveliest sympathy. The gratitude of the States of the island caused a monument to be erected at the public expense to the memory of Major Peirson, that gallant officer who so essentially contributed to their liberation from a French invasion. The monument is ornamented with very appropriate sculptures, which came from the chisel of the elder Bacon, who died in 1798. There is also a very neat and elegant inscription, giving a concise but energetic account of the fall of the young hero.
It is seldom that the fall of an officer not higher in rank than Major Peirson has excited such a general sensation. This was owing to many causes; the sympathy for the glorious fall of one so young, for the peculiarly embarrassing circumstances under which he was placed, and for the permanent consequences which resulted from his victory.
Cold indeed must be that heart that is not warmed to something like rapture when it reflects that even at this moment, the inhabitants of Jersey are indebted to his heroism, that they are British subjects, and that in that quality they enjoy so many religious and political blessings. If the French had then obtained possession of the island, it is very doubtful whether it would have been restored on the return of peace, or whether it would have been ever again wrested from that power.
The Baron de Rullecour, who commanded the French invasion, was buried in St Helier's Churchyard, in front of the place where now stands the monument of the late Nicholas Fiott, at about four or five yards distance, and opposite the great western door of the church. Rullecour is said to have been a tall and stout middle aged man.
Beneath the monument of Peirson, there is another of a more humble description, raised to the memory of the late Charles d'Auvergne, a native of this island, and claiming attention from his having been the father of the late Philip d'Auvergne, and Admiral in the British Navy, and Duke of Bouillon, in the Netherlands. His Serene Highness was one of those few men whose enlarged views, and whose exalted character reflected the highest honour on his country. Brave, disinterested, and beneficent, he was ever ready to patronize the deserving, or to relieve the unfortunate. The close of his career was however chequered by misfortune and ingratitude. He died in London, in 1816.
There are several other monuments the sculpture of which will please and interest the visitor. But pass we over them to approach with reverential awe a humble cenotaph dedicated to the memory of the late brave and unfortunate Brigadier General Anquetil, who perished with his army in the disastrous retreat from Cabul in 1842. That distinguished officer was a native of this island, and the modest tablet consecrated to his fame has been at the expense of the late Mr Anquetil, an affectionate relation, who was not even his heir.
It is in some sort a reflection on the States of this island that when they have yearly some thousands at their disposal, they have not yet found some moderate sum to be laid out in bestowing a suitable monument to honour the memory of a lamented native and a gallant soldier.
Not thus have acted our neighbours on the opposite coast in the city of Avranches. One of their fellow townsmen, General Valhubert, was slain in one of the battles of Napoleon in Poland. A colossal statue was erected by the emperor to his memory, and it now forms one of the principal ornaments that decorate his native place. This lesson given by rivals, neighbours, and foreigners, ought to be understood by the States, as a gentle hint to do something of the kind themselves.
The late Dr Edward Dupre, sometime dean of this island, died in 1823, and lies buried in the churchyard; but no monument has been raised to him either there or in the church. That Reverend gentleman was at once an elegant scholar, a poet, an eloquent preacher, and on the whole one of the most talented men that the Channel Islands ever produced. He was the translator of Popes' Dying Christian to his Soul into French, and it is the best version of it which has ever appeared in that language. It has been often printed in French collections of psalms and hymns.
It is very remarkable that it was selected for the anthem, sung at his own funeral. That circumstance made it doubly impressive, when applied to its lamented translator, and the effect it seemed to produce on the numerous assembly who attended on that melancholy occasion, has never been obliterated from the recollection of him who writes this article, and who then witnessed that imposing ceremony.
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