St Saviour's Parish Church

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St Saviour's Parish Church


The church with its lych gate=

By George Balleine


Of all our churches none made a queerer start than St Saviour's. It began life as four babies, who have grown into one. It stands at a point where five fiefs meet. Whether these mediaeval fiefs preserve the boundaries of prehistoric tribes no one can say; but for some reason the present churchyard became the burial ground for the neighbourhood.

Here in early Christian times someone built a little thatched chantry chapel 30 feet long, in which masses could be said for the souls of his family, and he dedicated it to St Saviour; and, since in those days no altar could be consecrated unless it contained a relic, he apparently secured from some pilgrim to Palestine what purported to be one of the thorns from Our Lord's crown of thorns.

There was an immense trade in this particular relic in the early Middle Ages; and credulous pilgrims brought back innumerable thorns from Jerusalem. There are still, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, more than 700 of these revered in European churches today, even after the enormous destruction of relics at the time of Reformation. The tiny chapel now became known as St Sauveur de l'Epine, St Saviour of the Thorn.

The public house stood where the lych gate was built

Five chapels

Then someone else built another tiny chapel alongside this one on the north, and dedicated it to St John. Later two more small chapels were built, a little to the west of the first two, but with a gap between; the northern one was dedicated to St Martin, and the southern one to the Virgin Mary. These four private chapels were quite unconnected with one another. A fifth chapel stood in the north-west corner of the churchyard, known as the Chapelle de l'Hote Dieu or de l'autel Dieu, the Chapel of the House of God or the Altar of God. It is not clear which was the original dedication.

The next stage came when connecting walls were built between the Chapel of the Thorn and the Chapel of the Virgin, and they were thrown into one to form a parish church. The walls were raised, and a stone roof substituted for the thatch. This must have been done before 1145, when a Papal Bull spoke of the Bishop of Coutances as being in possession of "the Church of St Saviour in Jersey with its lands, tithes, and other properties".

In the 13nth century this little church was lengthened at both ends east and west. At this time the parish priest, who was known as the vicar, not the rector, was appointed by the Archdeacon of Val de Vire in Normandy.

In the 14th century the great central tower was added, and later the Chapels of St John and St Martin were thrown into the church, and it became its present size.

Business-like rector

We hear little of church or parish until 1461, when Jehan Hue was appointed "Rector and Cure, or rather Perpetual Vicar". He was a Jerseyman who had been trained in the Diocesan Clergy School at Coutances, and had been ordained in the previous year in St Lawrence Church by the Bishop of Porphyris. He was evidently a man of business-like habits, for in his first year he compiled a register, which remains the most detailed picture we possess of church life in the island before the Reformation. It gives full particulars of the vicar's income, which fields paid tithe, and which paid two cabots of wheat, and lists of all benefactions left to the poor or the church.

Five houses were responsible for providing wax for the Church candles, eight for supplying corn to make the pain beni, 11 for supplying wine for the mass. From another source we learn that one farm was bound to lay "200 reeds on Christmas Eve from the presbytery to the church for the priest to walk on as he went to celebrate the midnight mass".

Hue gives the Rules of the Fraternities, which played in these days so prominent a part in the life of every parish. In St Saviour there were four, the Clerks of St Saviour, the Clerks of St Katherine, the Clerks of St Nicholas' Feast in Winter, and those of his Feast in Summer. Every member absent from the fraternity mass was fined two pots of wine. Every sister had to provide a capon for the community supper.

Later Hue listed the benefactions made in his own day: Richard Le Viellard presented the church with an image of St Sebastian. Madame Phillipe de Cateret left two cabots of wheat rente to maintain a candle before the crucifix. The mother of Alinor Poingdestre left a cabot of rente for a candle before Our Lady for Pity.

By his will Hue left the church a pair of black damask vestments and a silver chalice worth 40 golden crowns. But his chief benefaction was the foundation of the St Mannelier's Grammar School. An effort was now being made to give the chantry priests something to do beside saying masses for the dead. An almshouse had been attached to the Chapel of the Hotel de Dieu. And a mile and a half from the church stood another old chapel dedicated to St Magloire, the Breton Apostle of Sark, who was locally known as St Mannelier. Beside this Hue built a school, and endowed it with a field that he had inherited from his mother; and this remained for four hundred years the chief educational institution in the island.

An alcove in the south-west buttress reminds us of another devotion very popular at this time. It bears the initials of George Lempriere, who was Constable in 1464, and the cockleshell shows that he had gone on pilgrimage to the shrine of St James of Campostella in Spain. Every year a ship sailed from Jersey crowded with pilgrims on their way to this sanctuary; and the Constable on his return evidently placed a statue of St James in that niche.

The church interior with its uniform pews

16th century

Then came the Reformation; and St Saviour became one of its chief centres. The States in 1548 invited two Huguenot theologians to the island "to expound the Word of God to the people purely"; and one of these, Martin Langcoys, was made Rector of St Saviour.

All images, pictures, candles, ornaments, vestments were swept away; the windows were filled with plain glass; and the Church was transformed into a Huguenot Temple. (Calvinists objected to a building being called a "church", reserving that word for the company of Christian people). Calvinism made its appeal solely and austerely to the mind. It trusted the preacher with the task of lifting men's hearts heavenward. So it filled the chancel with benches facing the pulpit.

Let us watch a service at this time. Men and women enter the temple by separate doors and sit on opposite sides, the men retaining their hats, which they only remove to salute the text of the sermon. The black-gowned minister also wears a close-fitting cap, the claque-oreilles, in the pulpit. The service is that of the Huguenot Prayer Book, drawn up by Calvin for Geneva. No departure from this is permitted. Extempore prayer is forbidden. The most popular feature of the service is the singing of Marot's Metrical Psalms to familiar ballad tunes. In the morning there is a sermon, but the afternoon is devoted to catechizing.

The Calvinist Catechism was a portentous manual with over 400 answers, in which everyone was drilled, until he was word-perfect. Mercifully it was divided into 55 sections, only one of which was taken each Sunday. On most Sundays the children gave the answers, "repeating them again and again, that their elders may grow familiar with them." But four times a year came the Great Catechizing when the children had the joy of hearing the adults catechized, "beginning with the elders," and watching to see if grandfather or the Constable would stumble over one of the difficult answers.

On Communion Sunday, which came four times a year, every parishioner over eleven was bound to communicate.

"This do in remembrance of Me" was now the law of the land. Everyone wore deepest mourning in memory of the death of Christ. A table was set in front of the pulpit with benches round it, and the people sat round in relays", as this posture agrees best with the original institution.

17th century

When Charles II recovered the throne in 1660, the Anglican Prayer Book was enforced, but on two points for several generations the congregation refused to conform. They refused to join in the Responses, which became a duet between the rector and the clerk; and many refused to kneel to receive the communion, but communicated standing.

The Church was well cared for. Poingdestre, writing in 1682, says that it was "ye fairest and cleanest of all ye island and ye best in repaire"; but before long through the growth of population it had to be disfigured by a number of unsightly galleries. At this time the communion table was in the Chapel of St John.

The chancel

19th century

In 1841 came the first general restoration. The rector was living in retirement, and Thomas Orange, who later became Rector of St Lawrence, was in charge of the parish. He was evidently a man full of tact, and energy.

Pews were then private property, and pew-holders were quick to resent any interference with them; but he managed to persuade them to consent to an entire rearrangement, by which he gained 100 additional seats on the ground floor, and was able to demolish the largest of the galleries. All pews were painted a uniform stone colour. The church was replastered throughout.

Only on one point was he beaten. He wished to remove the communion table from the Chapel of St John to its present position in the Chapel of the Thorn; but, after twice gaining the consent of the assemblée, at a third meeting this scheme was outvoted.

Sixty years later under Canon Luce the Church assumed its present arrangement. The Chapel of the Thorn became the chancel, and the Chapel of the Virgin the nave. Ancient windows and doors were unblocked under the guidance of an enthusiastic architect, Adolphus Curry, and every effort made to restore the building to its original form. In addition many beautiful gifts were given by parishioners, stained glass windows, pulpit, screen, etc. One improvement was the purchase of a public house, which stood at the corner of the churchyard, and the erection of a lych-gate in its place in memory of Dean Balleine.

20th century

In 1946, a handsome processional cross was presented to the church by Mrs H M Robin, in memory of her twograndsons, who died in the Second World War: Francis Victor Beaufort, Lieutenant, 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards, and Michael Guy Robin, Flight Lieutenant, Royal Air Force.

In 1951 a sterling silver chalice and paten, and a solid brass yable with deep cut black lettering and vine borders, was given by parishioners and numerous friends in memory of the late Canon G P Balleine, Rector of St Saviour, 1917-1940.

1952: "Children's Corner." A handsome and beautiful gift by Miss Lucy Isabel Vance, in memory of her parents, William John and Isabel Vance. The furnishings of the corner are most harmonious and the whole adds to the dignified atmosphere of the church.

1956: A magnificent solid silver cross and candlesticks on the main altar were presentedby Lieut-Colonel H S Le Rossignol in memory of his wife who died in 1955.

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