Grouville Parish Church

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Grouville Parish Church


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This article by R G Warton was first published in the 1913 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise


Original name

Though neither one of the finest nor oldest of the parish churches of Jersey, Grouville Church possesses a quiet dignity all its own. It has been popularly supposed to be the only Island church not named after a saint, but this idea is incorrect since it was formerly known as "St Martin de Grouville", to distinguish it from its neighbour "St Martin Le Vieux".

The Abbot of Holy Trinity, Lessay, originally nominated to the cure of the parish. Its patron saint was St Martin de Tours. It is recorded of this saint that once he met a naked beggar outside the gate of the city of Amiens. St Martin divided his cloak into two parts, of which he gave one to the poor man to wear. In the night our Lord appeared to St Martin in a vision, wearing the half of the cloak he had given in charity. The story is commemorated in the south eastern window of the church.

It has been suggested that this church was consecrated in 1322, but the following note proves that it existed at a much earlier date: "The Abbot of Lessay was then patron of the parish of 'Groville' (not Grouville) by the gift of Geoffrey du Buisson in 1149. The Bishops of Avranches had tythes and fiefs in all the islands, but they never had episcopal jurisdiction."

Grouville Parish Church

Nestled at the foot of Grouville Hill, in a corner where three roads converge, respectively from St Helier, Gorey, and La Rocque, the church commands a flat plain seaward, to the south east, with a distant view of the ancient Castle of Mont Orgueil, and is backed by rising wooded ground, to the north and west.

The little village of Grouville, including rectory, schools and inn, with a few private houses skirting the road, completes the picture, forming an "old time" corner. In its midst is a well kept churchyard, the resting place of many whose names still appear on the parish roll. The course of years has rendered its extension to the other side of the road a necessity.

Battle memorial

In the older portion, adjacent to the church, is a tomb to the memory of British soldiers killed at La Rocque when Baron Rullecourt and his Frenchmen landed in 1781.

It bears the following patriotic inscription:

"In hope of a blessed resurrection, near this place are deposited the remains of seven grenadiers of the 83rd Regt, who, in a party led on by Lieutenant James Robertson, against a detachment of the French troops that had invaded this Island, gloriously fell in he midst of their victorious companions at La Rocque Platte, on the 6th January 1781."

They repose a few yards south of the monument, where the old entrance was into the churchyard, opposite a former south portal, of which traces still remain. The closing of this portal, and altering the road, rendered necessary the removal of the monument from its original site.

In a neighbouring cottage, which may have been in former times the chapel of a religious community, probably contemporaneous with the 11th century Fisherman's Chapel of St Brelade's Bay, a stoup for Holy water was found, which now may be seen in the church, though no longer put to its original use.

An early picture showing a church buttress

Church layout

Grouville Church, or more correctly St Martin de Grouville, comprises a nave and chancel with two transepts, or rather aisles, north and south of it; a central tower, surmounted by a quadrilateral broach spire, devoid of ornament, save for a string course near the top, and long narrow dormer slits, unglazed, serving as spire lights, at its base.

The west end of the nave, which is undoubtedly the oldest portion of the church, probably dates from the 12th century, and still contains many water-worn stones, laboriously conveyed from the neighbouring sea beach for its construction. It is possible, and even probable, however, that since the date of building, the sea may have receded considerably from the present site, owing to silting of the neighbouring bay, and that consequently, the distance was not so great then as today.

In plan, this church differs from the form characteristic of most Jersey churches, which usually consists of a chancel and long nave, with short transepts. It, however, does not depart altogether from the cruciform plan, inasmuch as the aisles, running parallel with the chancel, may be regarded as substitutes for a transept.

The traditional date of consecration, 1322 AD, probably applies to the completion of the chancel, tower, and spire. These were added in the late 14th or early 15th century, chiefly through the generosity of the Mallet family, whose bearing (3 buckles) is probably represented on the gable south of the east window, in proximity to a patriarchal or "trefide" cross.

Should this supposition be correct this stone would have been inserted at the time of the enlargement of the church by the Mallet family. This family held the "Fief and Seigneurie de la Malletiere" in the parish of Grouville, as far back as the reign of King John in the 12th century. The aisles, or chapels, adjoining the chancel are of late 15th century date.

Grouville Parish Church

Leper windows?

From the exterior, on either side of the presbytery, may be observed side windows, supposed by some to have been used as "leper" windows. The height of these from the ground, however, renders this idea somewhat doubtful. Such windows in olden times were used for the administration of the sacrament to lepers, and others, in time of plague; the fact that there is no record of their being used prior to the early English style of architecture (13th century) corresponds, to some extent, with the alleged date when the chancel was erected. At least four varieties of buttress may be observed, supporting the walls of Grouville Church.

Attention may be especially directed to the north wall of the nave. Here, commencing at the western end, may be seen a long and narrow Norman light, side by side with a flat and shallow Norman buttress, rounded, sea-worn pebbles being conspicuous in the containing walls. Over the buttress, a blocked window appears, which in former days gave light to an upper room, above the porch, then used as a school.

Further east of the buttress, and close to it, are two hideous triangular erections of recent date, rendered necessary owing to a tendency of the wall to bulge. Why the existing type of buttress should not have been reproduced, it is difficult to surmise. Between these two triangles a pointed window, probably 14th century, has been introduced, having beneath it a segmental arched modern doorway, a veritable eyesore. In the wall of the north aisle a bricked up Norman doorway marks the position of the ancient Porte des morts, through which excommunicated persons passed from the church.

The eastern exterior of the church is interesting. Three gables surmounted by stone crosses, enclosing three handsome early English, (or rather French) windows, with Fleur de lis finials, and ornamented by quaint gargoyles, are worthy of notice. Heavy double buttresses support the corners. There are north and south entrances, besides the western one. These are all modern, but the last named is built on to an ancient Norman doorway, the jambs of which have been rudely cut away, so as to permit the parish field guns to enter. These, in former days, were usually housed in the church porch.

Grouville Parish Church

Interior contrasts

The interior of Grouville Church presents a remarkable contrast between its eastern and western ends. The nave, with its whitewashed barrel roof, and plain, recessed, gothic windows, devoid of moulding, or ornament, and Norman west doorway is a reminder of early times. Eastward, however, the massive round pillars and piers (somewhat stunted in appearance, owing to an elevation of the floor), fine gothic arches faced with Chausey granite, supporting towel and spire, with chancel and chapels, encircling richly hued windows and fantastic flamboyant tracer), in perspective, form an ensemble, at once dignified and impressive.

The church possesses two, it may be three, ancient piscenas, placed respectively in the south wall of the chancel, and at the east end of the northern aisle. Concerning the third, some doubt exists. Situated at the south east end of the southern aisle, it presents a curious feature, being a niche almost at floor level, with segmental arch, and having a broken cavity in the lower part.

It may possibly have been a piscina, before the floor was raised, though somewhat larger than usual: on the other hand, it has been suggested that its original object was that of an oven, for baking the sacramental wafer, similar to those found in the Surrey churches of Limpsfield, Dunsfold, and elsewhere.

An indentation, or chamfer, on either side of the large north arch of the chancel, appears to indicate that at some former period a screen existed between the chancel and chapel, the latter being known as the Chapelle des Amis. The south transept contains a monument to the Rev Francis Payn, for eight years Dean of Jersey, who was buried in the church in 1755.

Grouville church plate

Distinctive windows

The east windows of the church form a distinct feature both as to gracery and glass. The former, as previously remarked, is French, Flamboyant. The latter, though modern, is decidedly good.

The chancel window in particular is worthy of notice, and equals any in the Island. Composed of four lights, it represents, in medallions, scenes of the Passion. A window of three lights, in the Chapelle des Amis, depicts incidents in the life of St Martin de Tours, and was presented by Mr de Carteret Bisson, whose arms appear beneath, as also those of the ancient family of Dumaresq Morin, of whom Bisson was a descendant.

The east window of the south aisle contains medallion figures of the four Evangelists Other Gothic windows in the two aisles (or chapels) represent "Pentecost" the " Nativity" and "The Good Shepherd", the last a memorial to Emily de Carteret Bisson. The nave contain four splayed lancet windows, without ornament, on the South side, and two lancets, one round, and one Gothic window on the north. The last named has flamboyant tracery, its exterior being ornamented by early English mouldings, running into two shafts in either jamb, with stilted bases. It is surmounted by a dripstone, with curious finial, probably a "Fleur de lis".

Church plate

The church plate is entirely of post-Reformation date, and not so fine as that belonging to some of the other Jersey churches. It includes a large alms dish, given for the use of Grouville Church in 1688, a baptismal dish, 1782, two flagons, four chalices, one of which is marked 1684, and a paten presented by Marguerite Grant to the Chapel of St Pierre de la Rocque, 1855, the chapel of ease for the parish.

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