It has long been an established tenet of Jersey history that before the Reformation each of the 12 parish churches was linked to the coast by a 24-foot (one perch) wide strip of land, which served as a means of escape to the sea for anyone who sought sancuary in a church. These perquages, as they were known, became Crown property after the Reformation and were given by King Charles II in 1633 to Edward de Carteret, in recognition of the assistance he and his father had given their monarch.
An ancient law originating in Normandy allowed those who broke the law, or were accused of an offence, to take refuge in their nearest church, and remain for up to nine days, during which time their family brought them food. Then they had to decide whether to submit to justice or leave Jersey forever, unless they could obtain a pardon from the King. It was said that if they kept to the perquage between the church and the coast they could not be arrested, and many criminals headed for a waiting boat to leave Jersey for good.
Parts of some of these routes survive, and the name perquage persists in several road names.
However, recent research by historian Christopher Aubin appears to have destroyed the theory that the perquages originally existed as sanctuary paths. He revealed in a 1997 article in the Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise that there was not a path in each parish, those which did exist did not start at the parish churches, and they were not specifically for use by criminals who had claimed sanctuary and wished to leave the island.
So strongly did he dispute the views of earlier historians that he claimed that the path from St Lawrence's Church, said to reach St Aubin's Bay at Beaumont, never existed. The final section of what had hitherto been universally believed to be the sanctuary path from St Lawrence's Church, down to St Peter's Valley and via Sandybrook to the coast, is still a public footpath today, having been given by La Société Jersiaise to the public of the island, and is called Le Perquage. It's status is not, however, disputed by Aubin, who accepts that it was the southern end of what he describes as the St Peter's Valley perquage.
Some of Jersey's most eminent historians have followed and repeated the theory about perquages which was supposedly first propounded by 17th century historian Jean Poingdestre, but Aubin claimed in his article that although Poingdestre referred to the concept of sanctuary paths, he made it clear that he did not believe in it.
Historians of the 19th and 20th centuries certainly did, but the most eminent of all in recent years, George Balleine, seems to have been unable to make up his mind. He omitted the term altogether from his 1945 glossary of Jersey terms, which was reprinted as an appendix in his 1948 Biographical Dictionary of Jersey. In his History of Jersey, first published in 1950, he refers to "a number of as yet unsolved problems by the linking of the word perquage with the right of sanctuary". However, a year later in his book The Bailiwick of Jersey, he repeats on numerous occasions the view that the perquages were sanctuary paths.
Both books were reviewed by one of Société's most respected historians of the late 20th century, Joan Stevens, prior to republication, and it is possible that the section of History of Jersey casting doubt on the status of the perquages as sanctuary paths was rewritten by her, or her colleague in the revision, Marguerite Syvret.
All references to perquages in the later editions of the two books have been assembled in a Jerripedia article, a link to which is included at the foot of this page.
Aubin explains that the perquages were public paths subject to inspection by the Visite Royales of the Royal Court alongside major streams or eaux publiques and he believes that their existence may date back to the French occupation of Jersey from 1461 to 1468. Although they may have been used, along with other routes, by criminals fleeing from a parish church to the coast, there is no evidence that they were ever sanctuary paths.
The 1997 article which finally destroyed the sanctuary path theory, as well as other earlier articles which perpetuated it, and an extract from the History of Jersey are accessible from these links: