St Helier's Church, known as the Town Church, is one of the 12 parish churches of Jersey.
Helier was a Belgian saint who lived as a hermit on an islet in St Aubin's Bay, about three quarters of a mile off the south coast of Jersey. In AD555 he was killed by pirates, beheaded by their leader who feared his men would be converted by Helier's preaching. In consequence Helier soon came to be venerated by the Islanders, and eventually was adopted as the Patron Saint of both Jersey and its capital.
Land reclamation means that the church, which was once on the shoreline, is now some way inland. There are iron rings in the boundary wall, which some historians suggest were used to moor boats, but the tide would only have reached here on the highest of spring tides and it is much more likely that the rings were used to tie cattle brought to market in town. The original marketplace was about 60 metres away next to a large rock which was surrounded by the sea at high spring tides.
It is believed that a chapel was erected on the site of the present building very shortly after Helier's death, but the present church was begun in the 11th century. The earliest record is in a document regarding the payment of tithes signed by William the Conqueror, which is assumed to pre-date the Norman Conquest of 1066. All that is visible of the 11th century structure are the remains of window arches on either side of the choir. The building was reconsecrated in 1341 for unknown reasons.
The church building was extended to roughly its present size by the end of the 12th century, but most of that building is also lost. The sections of wall flanking the east window, part of a pier on the north east side of the crossing, the west face of the north door and the adjoining section to the west, and a small section of wall opposite are all that remain of the building period of roughly 1175 to 1200. The porch attached to the north door and the greater part of the nave and crossing were built in the second quarter of the 15th century.
The date of the chancel is impossible to determine, since the original walls have been obliterated by the north chapel on the one side and the south chapel on the other. Most of the north transept dates to the second quarter of the 13th century. The present south transept, vestry, and the westwards extension to the nave are largely Victorian. A major renovation and re-ordering of the church began in 2007, and will take several years.
A chapel, La Chapelle de la Madeleine, existed in the north west corner of the churchyard until the Reformation. Formerly the Rectory and church offices were on the north side of the churchyard. These were replaced in 1969 by a new Church House building, a large concrete edifice incorporating offices, a church hall, kitchens and a choir vestry, together with a flat. The Rectory was moved to a large, purpose built Georgian house in the early 19th century.
This is the Historic Environment Record for the church:
The church is of fundamental importance to the heritage of Jersey being among the oldest and most significant historic buildings in the Island. One of the 12 medieval parish churches in Jersey.
11-12th century in origin with later alterations, enlargements and restorations from the 13-21st century. The dedication may date from the 6th century when St Helier established his hermitage and was likely given land opposite to found a church. The earliest known recorded reference to St Helier's Church is in 1090. The church has been central to the life of the St Helier parish community for hundreds of years and provides important insights into medieval and later society such as religious activity, artistic endeavour, technical achievement, the health of the local economy and the well-being of the population.
The church is in the vanguard of the Island's greatest architectural achievements. It has a long and complex structural history with visible fabric of several different dates, reflecting the periods of rebuild and modification, its development intertwined with the ecclesiastical, political and social advancements and upheavals through the centuries. Current knowledge identifies the oldest part of the standing structure as the 12th century nave and chancel. It is believed that the north transept dates to the 13th century, as does the north chapel.
Considerable additions were made in the 15th century, almost doubling the church in size, with the crossing and tower rebuilt circa 1440, the nave and south aisle, and the south chapel added in the late 15th century.
The building underwent substantial restoration in the 1860s and 2000s. The church has a range of interesting memorials, fixtures and fittings and is a major feature in the townscape. Its immediate setting includes a churchyard enclosed by walls and gates, erected in 1845 to designs by Jean Le Capelain, containing a rich variety of tombstones and monuments - many of historic or artistic interest. Shown on the Richmond Map of 1795.
Church history and architecture
- Nicolas Du Pont 1294
- Robert de Carteret 1295
- Johan Le Sauvage 1309
- Pierre d’Artis 1392
- Roger Walden 1371-1385 (Later Archbishop of Canterbury)
- Rogier Herbert 1432
- Johan Bunouet 1482-1502
- Andre de la Hougue 1502-1536
- Jean Nicolle 1538-1540
- Charles Mabson 1541-1553 (First Protestant Rector)
- Louis Gibaut 1553-1559
- Guillaume Morice 1562
- Thomas Johanne 1567
- Jean de Monanges 1570-1577
- Guillaume Bonhomme 1577-1583
- Pierre Henry dit Dancy 1583-1586
- Mathieu de la Faye 1591
- Jean de Bihan 1593
- Claude Parent 1595
- Thomas Oliver 1596-1638
- Pierre d’Assigny 1638-1643
- Pierre Faultrat 1646-1651
- Josué Bonhomme 1654-1657
- Francois Le Couteur 1657-1660
- Jean Dumaresq 1660-1686
- Joseph Pythios 1687-1696
- Jean Dumaresq 1696-1705
- Francois Le Couteur 1706-1716
- Francois Le Couteur 1717-1734
- Pierre Daniel Tapin 1735-1761
- Jean Dupré 1761-1784
- Edouarde Dupré 1784-1823
- Corbet Hue 1823-1837
- Francis Jeune 1838-1844
- James Hemery 1844-1849
- Philip Filleul 1850-1875
- William Corbet Le Breton 1875-1888
- George Orange Balleine 1888-1906
- Samuel Falle 1906-1937
- Mathew Le Marinel 1938-1959
- Alan Stanley Giles 1959-1971
- Thomas Ashworth Goss 1971-1984
- Basil Arthur O’Ferrall 1985-1993
- John Nicholas Seaford 1993-2005
- Robert Key 2005 -
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- Balleine, G R, Stevens, Joan, The Bailiwick of Jersey (1970). Hodder and Stoughton
- Brett, C E B, Buildings in Town and Parish of St Helier (1977). National Trust for Jersey
- Corbet, Francis, The Parish Church of St Helier Jersey (2004). Parish Church of St Helier
- Corbet, Francis, The Monuments and Windows of the Parish Church of St Helier Jersey