History of island religion

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Religion in Jersey has a complex history and much diversity, considering the size of the island.

It is a traditionally Christian island. The Church of England is the established church, but Methodism is traditionally strong in the countryside and there is a large Roman Catholic minority. Other religions - including, but not limited to Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Bahai - also exist on the island.

Before Christianity

In the Neolithic period religious activity in the settled communities is marked by the building of ritual burial sites known as dolmens, from which food and personal items such as jewellery, spindle whorls, pottery, tools and animal bones have been excavated at La Hougue Bie (a ritual site used around 3500|BC). These finds indicate that Neolithic settlers possibly believed in an afterlife much like many modern religions, the burial of the dead with their belongings showing similarities to the burial process in ancient Egypt. However, recent excavations by archaeologist Mark Patton, together with consideration of solar alignments, suggest that the Jersey Dolmens functioned more as centres of worship like cathedrals or churches, where burials are incidental to the main function.

Celtic Christianity

There is some evidence in Parish names of Celtic missions to the Islands, notably Saint Brelade in Jersey and Saint Samson in Guernsey. However, apart from place names, and one note in the Life of Samson, no documentary evidence is available.

Roman Catholicism

Sometime between 535 and 545, Helier, who was to become Jersey's patron saint, came to the island bringing the gospel.

The Channel Islands remained part of the Duchy of Normandy until 1204 when the French king took it back from King John of England]. The islands remained in the personal possession of the king and were described as being a Peculiar of the Crown. However, Jersey continued to be part of the Norman diocese of Coutances and was reluctant to come under the wing of the English church because it had many cultural ties with Normandy.

The island embraced the French Calvinist form of Protestantism during the Reformation and orders were received to remove all signs of Catholicism in 1547. In 1550 and 1551 church property was sold for the benefit of the crown. The island remained under the diocese of Coutances until 1569.

There have been several waves of Roman Catholic immigration, notably in the 1790s during the French Revolution, in the 1830s and 1840s with the influx of Irish labourers and towards the end of the 19th century with the settlement of Catholic religious orders. More recently there have been waves of Portuguese and Italians working in the tourism industry, and at the beginning of the 21st century, a large group of Polish immigrants arrived as part of the general wave of Polish emigration to Western Europe.

Protestantism

The Book of Common Prayer was translated into French by Jerseyman Jean Durel, later Dean of Windsor, and published for use in the Channel Islands in 1663 as Anglicanism was established as the state religion after the Stuart Restoration.

French Calvinism

Islanders embraced Calvinism during the Reformation, especially under the influence of French language pamphlets and books from [Geneva, France and the Low Countries.

The reign of Queen Mary was especially significant. Important Protestant religious leaders in Jersey and Guernsey fled to Geneva, and when they returned after Mary's death, they had taken on much of the severe form of Calvinism formulated there by Calvin, and set up Consistory Courts. Another factor was a reaction against the burning of heretics in the islands. In neighbouring Guernsey, Foxe records the death of the Protestant Perotine Massey; her newborn child was returned to the flames by the Catholic Bailiff.

There also was a sudden influx from France of Huguenots — French Calvinists — as Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes in 1685, effectively depriving them of the freedom to practice their religion.

Elizabeth I left Jersey and Guernsey more or less in charge of their own affairs, because of political expedience: Protestant islanders would be in opposition to Catholic France. It was not until the Governorship of Sir John Peyton in 1603, under James I that the forms of the Anglican church were restored to the Jersey; the most notable event being the appointment of David Bandinel in 1620 as the first Dean since the Reformation.

Methodism

In 1774 Pierre Le Sueur and Jean Tentin returned to Jersey from Newfoundland and started to preach Methodism, to which they had been converted while engaged in the Newfoundland fisheries. Some Huguenots were drawn to the ideas of Methodism similar to those of Calvinism.

Conflict with the authorities ensued when men refused to attend Militia drill when that coincided with chapel meetings. The Royal Court attempted to proscribe Methodist meetings, but George III refused to countenance such interference with liberty of religion. The first Methodist minister in Jersey was appointed in 1783, and John Wesley preached in Jersey in August 1789, his words being interpreted for the benefit of those from the country parishes. The first building constructed specifically for Methodist worship was erected in Saint Ouen in 1809. A total of 30 chapels were built in Jersey in the following century.

The early years of Methodism were complicated by two factors. The first was the fact that the Methodist community was prone to divisions - within two years of the St Ouen chapel opening, the Primitive Methodists split from the main Wesleyan connexion, and the Bible Christian (or Bryanite) group followed suit in 1815. Not until 1932 did the Methodist church again become a single connexion. The second (and specifically Jersey) factor was the language barrier: for many years Jersey maintained two separate Methodist Circuits, the English and the French. The most extreme consequence of this was that for the latter part of the 19th century the village of Gorey maintained three Methodist chapels - one English Circuit Wesleyan, one French Circuit, and one Bible Christian.

Judaism

Jews are thought to have lived in Jersey since at least 1800. There was an established community of Orthodox Ashkenazi origins sufficiently strong to create a synagogue in 1843, while a report in the Jewish Chronicle in 1847 records a total of 47 Jews in the island. However, it is estimated that by 1870 there were insufficient full members to maintain the synagogue, and by 1881 the Jewish Chronicle reported that the synagogue had been moribund for some years.

Some Polish Jews (including the ancestors of Wilfred Krichefski) arrived in the late 1880s, but it was not until November 1961 that a new synagogue was opened. The Jewish community is currently thought to number about 100 in total.

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