A history of St Clement's Parish Church

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A drawing of St Clement's Parish Church

By the Rev George Balleine


In ancient documents the church is referred to as follows: ' 'Ecclesia Sancti Clementis de Petravilla in Gersuis ' ', which is the Latin for "the Church of St Clement on the estate of Peter in Jersey".

In case anyone should make the objection that we have made a somewhat free translation of the word Petravilla, we would explain it as follows. There are several placenames in Jersey ending in the word ville, for example, Grouville, Longueville. These date back to pre-Norman days when Gallic gentlemen (even after the fall of the Roman Empire) continued to reside in so-called Roman villas. The villa did not necessarily mean simply the residence, or house occupied, but the entire estate, or farm, cultivated by these landed gentry. Such an estate was one known as Pierreville, the estate of Peter.

In time the owner became a Christian, and built a wooden chapel for himself and his employees, and no doubt one of the men from his estate was ordained priest to minister in the chapel. This wooden chapel would no doubt have been burnt during the Norman raids, but, on the cessation of these raids in the year 911, work would have been begun on the erection of a stone chapel dedicated in the name of St Clement. He was a "popular saint of the moment", his bones having been allegedly recently brought back from the Black Sea.

No later than the year 1067 there is evidence that William the Conqueror granted to the Abbey of Montvilliers half the tithes of the Church of St Clement in Jersey. Since only parish churches received tithes, the Church of St Clement was then no longer a private chapel, but a parish church. Another charter in 1090 shows that by that time the church had passed into the ownership of the Abbey of St Sauveur le Vicomte in Normandy, for the Abbot was confirmed in his possession; and it remained the property of this abbey until the Reformation.

The chancel

Early building

The oldest part of the church, that which formed the original chapel, is what we now know as the nave. At first, no doubt, it was a tiny Norman building, with a low thatched roof and narrow windows, two of which remain in the north wall. A further chapel was added a few yards away, on the site which the organ chamber now occupies. This, for perhaps 500 years, had no connection with St Clement's but stood as a neighbouring chapel, as the Fishermen's Chapel stands close to St Brelade's Church.

In the 15th century the church was considerably enlarged by the addition of a chancel and transepts, giving it the usual cruciform shape of most Christian churches. It has been possible to ascertain the approximate date for these enlargements and alterations on account of the Payn arms, the three trefoils, in the chancel, for the Payns were the Seigneurs of Samares during that century. Also of this period are the gargoyle on the east outside wall, and the murals, or frescoes.

When the church was enlarged, the roof was raised and constructed in stone, the line of which may still be observed on the tower arch, and buttresses were constructed to support the weight.

Reformation vandalism

The Reformation reached the island of Jersey in severely Calvinistic form, in approximately 1550. As was the case with all the Jersey churches, and with the majority of the churches in England, all traces of the ancient worship were swept aside.

Altars, images, stained glass, all were smashed to pieces. Endowments for masses and lamps were confiscated to the Crown. Only one bell was left. Soler, the first Protestant Rector, a fiery Spaniard, who had been a Dominican friar, did his work so thoroughly that nothing remains but one empty bracket, on which once stood the statue of a Saint, the piscina in the chancel, at which the priest used to cleanse his hands before mass, and in the North Chapel, a much more primitive piscina, and an ambry or almery, the cupboard which contained the altar vessels, the consecrated oil for anointing the sick, and the reserved sacrament.

During the hundred years following the Reformation, the Church became a "Huguenot Temple", that is to say the form of worship was that practised by the Protestants of France, except for five years under Queen Mary, when the Catholic ritual was restored, and for a short period during which Dean Bandinel secured a reluctant use of the Prayer Book. During this time the men entered by the west door, and the women by a door, now walled up, at the end of the north transept.

The south door did not then exist. In Commonwealth days a large gallery was erected at the west end of the church. There was then no altar, but an oak table (now in the new vestry), was set in front of the pulpit, and from the north side of this no doubt the celebrant would conduct the communion service on only the four major festivals of the Church Year.

The font

19th Century

The Act Book of the ' 'Assemblee Ecclesiastique' ' gives certain information as to what took place in the 19th century. In 1823 the assembly forbade the schoolmaster to continue holding his school in the vestry, as the children had been breaking seats and windows in the church.

The Militia cannon were kept in the church as late as 1824, for in that year a special meeting was held to take steps to make it easier to get them in and out.

In 1826 the Rev Phillippe Aubin was appointed rector. He was a young and vigorous man, who made many improvements. In 1828 the old cracked bell was disposed of to a French bell founder, named Pierre Le Lievre, and was replaced by the present one, cast by Marquet of Villedieu. It was hung on 1 September of that year, and bears the inscription :

”Saint Clement, Ile de Jersey, 1828
Messrs Jean Touzel, et Gedeon Ahier

An organ, lent by the Seigneur of Samares, was placed in the gallery. An annexe, as high as the church itself, was added to the west end to house the cannon and to act as a vestry and Sunday school. Since this now blocked the west door, a new entrance was made, which in later years formed a small vestry, and which, later still, was discontinued as a vestry and which, at the time of writing, is used as a store for cleaning equipment. In 1833 the north door was walled up to exclude the draught. In 1837 the stone from which the parish notices had once been given out was ordered to be removed from the churchyard to make room for a grave.

1880 Restoration

The important restoration of 1880 was in fact initiated by the Rev Charles Marett, Rector from 1842-1876. In 1874 the Rector caused a committee to be appointed to draw up plans for a complete restoration, and he collected £295.

The annexe, built at the instigation of Rector Aubin, was entirely removed, thus allowing for the reopening of the west door, and the unblocking of the west window. The nearby door was turned into a tiny vestry. A new entrance to the church was made in the south transept.

The gallery was pulled down, and the walls stripped of their plaster, thus revealing the frescoes. The high box pews and the great square manor pew in front of the pulpit were removed and replaced by the present seating.

The chancel was restored to its ancient use with altar and altar-rails. A new pulpit and prayer-desk were installed, the pulpit being handsomely constructed out of Caen stone. The reredos was presented by Edward Mourant, Seigneur; the sanctuary chair by Jean Monamy, the Constable; and the lectern by Charles Marett, the former Rector. Three stained-glass windows were also presented.

The work took three years to complete, and the total cost was £1,535. The church was reopened for public worship on 29 March 1882, when the service was conducted in English.

Church plate

20th century

After the great restoration of the 19th century, it would appear that the tendency of the church officials was to put up their feet and say "Thank goodness that's over for the next hundred years !"

We are not, however, far from the truth in saying the above, for 60 years after the great restoration, we read that "the dingy, dampstained walls and ceiling are crying aloud for attention".

In the first half of the century, that little was done is evident. In 1901 a new organ (by Alfred Oldknow) was installed, the money for this having been raised by a bazaar in the grounds of Samares Manor, the sum realised being £351. In 1919 a clock was given. In 1935 plans for a new vestry were turned down by the Ecclesiastical Court on the grounds that the church was not large enough to sacrifice any of its pews.

In 1936 Lady Knott, of Samares Manor, offered a carillon of bells, but so many difficulties arose about this that the project was abandoned. In 1953, however, a further offer of a gift by the Lady of Samares, in memory of her second husband, was accepted gratefully.

This took the form of an oak screen, separating the north side of the sanctuary from the ancient North Chapel, thus making a commodious clergy vestry. The screen was given in the memory of Commander Edward Owen Obbard, Jurat of the Royal Court, who died on 10 March 1951. The dedication service was performed by the Dean of Jersey on 10 March 1953, in the presence of the Lieut-Governor, and a large representative congregation.

One of the wall paintings

Wall paintings

St Clement's Church is justly renowned for its frescoes (or wall-paintings), and inscriptions, which were discovered in the extensive restoration.

South transept

In the south transept, on the west wall, there survive from the original painting the hind legs of a horse, followed by another of which the fore legs appear. Between the two is the hand of a cavalier, stretching down to a dog, whose head is raised towards his master, who is mounted on the leading horse. The inscription below the fresco reads as follows:

"Helas saincte Marie, et quelle
ces trois mors qui sot cy hideulx
mont fait meplre en gnt tristesse
de les vois ainxi piteulx."

("Alas, St Mary? Who are,these three corpses that are so grim? It breaks my heart to see them thus piteous").

The legend which this illustrates is known as ' 'The Three Living and the Three Dead' ' an old French poem telling how three young princes, while out hunting, see three horrible corpses who gave them a lecture on the perils of worldly success. Several English churches (notably Charlwood,Surrey; Battle, Sussex; and Ditchingham, Norfolk), have paintings of this story on their walls, as have also many Normandy churches.

North transept

In the North transept a large mural has been cut in two by the arch which leads into the eastern portion of the church. This shows that at the time the mural was executed (about the second half of the 15th century), this was a solid wall and the chapel behind entirely separate from the church. All that is left is part of St Margaret with the wing of her conquered dragon and St Barbara standing by her tower.

The legend of St Margaret is that she was assailed in prison by the Devil in the shape of a horrible dragon. She made the sign of the Cross on his breast, which split him in two; and allowed her to escape safely. The Crusaders brought over this legend in the 11th century, and it became very popular, since the Dragon was supposed to personify the Saracens.

St Barbara of Heliopolis in Egypt was beheaded for the Faith in 235 AD. Legend asserts that she had been miraculously converted to Christianity.

Nave north wall

On the north wall of the nave is a representation of St Michael slaying the dragon. The Archangel is in complete armour, but appears to have lost his helmet. He holds in his hand a broken hilt, of which the blade is near the Dragon, which he is stamping under his feet.

The presence of this fresco is said to have been due to a prioress belonging to Mont St Michel. It is possible that when the French, under Count Maulevrier, obtained by treachery possession of this portion of the Island, for a short time in the 15th century, he way have had the work executed as a sign of victory.

Judging by the lettering, these frescoes would date from the second half of the 15th century, though some may be earlier, as the headdresses would seem to belong to the 14th century, and the armour of St Michael indicates the same period.

Further gifts

The 1960s have seen further gifts to the church, two of which must be noted here.

A treasury, in the form of a glass-fronted cupboard has been built into the wall of the north transept. This is a handsome showcase for the church silver, and contains the ancient chalices and baptismal dishes. The treasury was erected in memory of the late Mr V J Bailhache, a lifelong worshipper at St Clement's Church, and the cost was borne by his widow, Mrs Alice Bailhache., her son, Advocate Lester Bailhache, and her daughter, Mrs Margaret Evans.

The latest addition to the church plate is a private communion set, consisting of chalice, paten, wafer box and spoon, all in solid silver, the gift of Lady Kavanagh. Presented to the Church in 1962, the set was given in memory of Colonel Sir Dermot McMorrough Kavanagh.

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