Religion has paid an integral part in the history of Jersey. Over the years religion has brought the community together and sometimes torn it apart. From the changes witnessed at the Reformation to the influx and rise of other religions such as Methodism and Roman Catholicism Jersey has witnessed vast changes in the ecclesiastical landscape.
Church records in Jersey date from the beginning of the Reformation with the earliest registers dating from 1540 in St Saviour. In the years after Reformation, French Protestantism heavily influenced the Island Church and this was increased by the arrival of the French Huguenots, fleeing their homeland in the face of religious persecution.
This influx of refugees from France can be seen into the eighteenth century with French Protestants fleeing at the time of the French Revolution.
Return of Catholicism
The Revolution also saw the return of Roman Catholicism to the Island. The Reformation had seen the destruction of the Catholic Church in Jersey but the Revolution saw French priests refusing to sign up to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy in France and leave for Jersey as a consequence. It has been suggested that up to 3,200 priests came to Jersey at this time. Many other French nationals escaped to the Island thus providing a congregation.
The growth of Roman Catholicism was further augmented by the potato famine in Ireland, which saw an influx of Irish workers to the Island. After a time tension started to build between the French and Irish communities and separate Churches were built to accommodate each one. This is the origin of the modern day St Thomas’ Church, the French Church, and St Mary and St Peter’s Church, the Irish Church. The records of both Churches are now held at the Jersey Archive.
Non-conformism was also increasing at the turn of the eighteenth century with Methodism growing steadily until it dominated in the nineteenth century. The popularity of the church is illustrated by the fact that at one time were over 30 chapels in existence. Other independent Churches also appeared at this time offering locals an alternative to the Established Church.
In the 18th and 19th centuries the Anglican Church reflected people’s situation in society. Pews were owned by wealthy landowners and were a sign of social standing. In contrast poor members of the parish had to sit in the basic seating or stand at the back of the Church.
Pewholders held a great deal of power within the Church. When in 1833 the Rector of St Ouen, Philippe Payn, took the decision to change the layout of the Church he did not appreciate the repercussions of this action. Jean Arthur, a disgruntled patron of the Church, served an Order of Justice on him. His pews had been in a perfect viewing position for the Pulpit of the Church and Desk of the Minister but after they had been moved he felt that his pew had significantly depreciated in value. He demanded compensation of £500 for the loss or for the furniture to be moved back to their previous positions. Perhaps unsurprisingly the Ecclesiastical Assembly decided to move the furniture back.
The Church could be socially divisive but it also did a great deal of good for the poor of the Parish. There was a fund organised by the Church and Parish called La Charité. The Charité records are an invaluable source as there are not many archives that record the life of the poor.
The early St Lawrence records have fantastic detail of the reasons why people were given money. It details money paid for people to foster children for a month in order to relieve their parents. In 1741 the wives of Philippe Le Brun and Elie de Gruchy were paid 4 livres each to look after one of Elie Romeril’s children for a number of months. Other cases mentioned within the book include that of George Messervy and Nicollas Le Mottais who were given 2 livres so that they could afford for their wives to go to the doctor. On 23 May 1742 Nicolas Le Gros was also given 2 livres to give to Jean Malzard to help him through illness. Sadly in this case the help came too late as Nicolas is registered as being buried at St Lawrence Parish Church five days later. Rise of Non-Conformism
As Non-Conformism became more popular an increasing amount of people in the Island converted to different faiths. Some conversions come completely unexpectedly, which can make family history research difficult.
Research into the Gallie family in the 18th and 19th centuries illustrates this. Jacques Josue Francois Gallie married Susanne Le Noble in Grouville Parish Church in 1794 and went on to have six children together. They were baptised in Grouville Parish Church and the Town Church.
Susanne later died and Jacques married Elizabeth Jeanne Le Sueur. They had two children, Jacques and Elizabeth, who were both baptised in the Town Church in 1810 and 1811. At this point according to the Parish Church records they did not have any more children.
It is only when going through the Independent Church Records that a twist is added to the story. Evidently between 1811 and 1812 the family converted. In the Halkett Place Independent Church Registers Jacques and Susanne had eight more children over the next 17 years. This illustrates the need for family historians to check as many sources as possible when undertaking research.