St Clement Parish Church

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

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Smallest parish church

This, the smallest and one of the oldest parish churches in the island, stands as a central point in perhaps the most fertile and beautiful of its 12 parishes. It is very interesting as an example of the mixed architecture, which frequently prevails in Jersey churches.

Ancient Romanesque windows may be observed, against which pointed arches of much later date have been built, which could have had no other object than to support a heavier roof than the original, which was probably of wood.

The church was dedicated to St Clement, Bishop of Rome, who lived in the second century. The cure was at the nomination of St Sauveur-le-Vicomte, and it may be noted that it is designated in the ancient records of that abbaye as "St Clement de Pierreville - Ecclesia Sancti Clementis de Petrevilla in Gersois". Its plan is cruciform, with a north-east chapel or chancel aisle.

It has been suggested that this aisle may have been the original chapel from which the church has sprung, Colour is lent to the idea by the rude workmanship which it exhibits illustrated by the curious fact that the supporting buttresses are not quite at right angles to the walls.

There seems little doubt, however, that the nave, which is entered by a semi-circular Norman doorway, forms the oldest portion of St Clement' Church. The window on the north of the nave, a piscina in the chapel, or chancel aisle, and the before-mentioned doorway are Romanesque or Norman; the rest of the church, with the exception of some modern deformities, Gothic, presenting examples of flamboyant and decorated tracery. The chancel displays a slightly southern orientation as compared with that of the nave, an incident not uncommon in Jersey churches.

Inside the church

Granite sculpture

The font dates from about 1400 AD and is perhaps as fine a specimen of sculptured granite as any in the Island. It was removed from the Church at the time of the Reformation, and buried on the north side, where it was found about the middle of the 19th century, when a trench was being opened as a protection from damp, and placed in its present position near the south porch.

A handsome pulpit in Caen stone, and reredos recently erected, add materially to the beauty of the interior of the church.

Amongst other reminders of bygone days is the ‘’porte aux dames’’ at the end of the north transept, now blocked up, which formed the entrance for women, when it was the custom for them to be separated from the men during service.

Round the supporting piers of the tower a ledge may still be seen, intended for the use of poor parishioners, and actually occupied within the last 60 years.

The windows belong to different periods and are not of particular interest, though some stained glass, presented at the time of the last restoration (1881-82) is fairly good. That at the east end of the chancel, comprising three lights, is in style French flamboyant.

In the south wall of the chancel is one to the memory of Marie Le Maistre, and in the south wall of the nave, another, to that of the Rev Thomas Seale, a former Rector.

Two small Norman windows in the north wall of the nave were presented by Mr P H de Gruchy, whilst the lancet window at the west end was given by Mr John Le Brocq, in memory of his wife, son and daughter.

The beautiful reredos, in Caen stone, contains panels of the Agnus Dei and the pelican vulting herself.

The Dumaresq tablet

Church bell

The present church bell dates from 1828, its predecessor having been sold to a French bell founder named Pierre Le Lievre. It was hung on 1 September and bears the inscription:

Saint Clement, Ile de Jersey, 1828
Messrs Jean Touzel et Gédéon Ahier, Surveillants

The chancel, spire, and transept of St Clement's Church are of 14th or early 15th century date, and call for no special remark, the spire being of the usual Jersey type, quadrangular, with long narrow slits near the base, for light. An arch providing access between the chancel and chapel, has been apparently cut through the large fresco, which originally occupied the full length of the east wall of that portion of the church.

A recess in the west wall of the transept marks the original entry to be belfry, which during restoration was replaced by an entrance from the outside.

An ancient priory in former days adjoined the church to the westward, which was suppressed like many others in the 15th century. Quite recently the foundation of one of it boundary walls was struck when digging a grave in the churchyard.

The jurisdiction of this priory, however, did not in any way affect the rights of the church, as proved when the Bishop Richard Bohun of Coutances in the 12th century allowed the monks of Mont St Michel to build a chapel of St Clement - "Salvo et retento omni parochiali jure ecclesie Sancti Clementis" (save and except all the rights belonging to the Church of St Clement).

The church plate

Church plate

The church plate is well worthy of inspection, though as is the case of all the Jersey churches, of post-Reformation date. It includes six valuable chalices, one of them being the oldest in the Island. The respective dates engraved on them are 1594, 1624, 1638, 1659, 1804. It also comprises a silver paten, 18 inches in diameter, presented in 1658 by Jean Touzel, and a silver baptismal dish, presented in 1702 by Helier Dumaresq to replace the font removed by Reformer vandals; in addition to which are two patens in solid silver, and a large silver dish 18 inches in diameter, bearing the following inscription:

"Fond pour Ie Baptesme, donné à l'eglise de St Clement, par Helier Dumaresq, Gent, 1702, 10eme Avril."

But to many, perhaps the most interesting feature of St Clement's Church will be found in some frescoes, and inscriptions, discovered during the summer of 1879 by workmen employed in restoration. They had been hidden by plaster, and were unfortunately much damaged and defaced. Nevertheless, from the disconnected fragments it has been found possible to form an idea of the original subjects.

A brief description of these frescoes is as follows :-

On the exterior side of the south wall, a rectangular granite slab has been inserted, to the memory of Jean Dumaresq. It dates from 1597, and records the death of John Dumaresq and Esther Dumaresq, his wife, (Lady of Samares) and displays the following armorial bearings:-

  • Trefoils of Payn
  • Scallops of Dumaresq
  • Dolphins of Bagot
  • Quartered arms of Payn and Lempriere (Trefoils and eagle displayed)
One of the church frescoes

Frescoes

To the west, on the southern transept, is the following inscription

. . . . . . . merités
. . . . . . . verités
. . . . . . . comtes
. . . . . . .hontes
“Hélas, Sainte Marie et quelle
ces trois mors qui sot ey hideulx
mont fait meplre en gut tristesse
de les vois ainxi piteulx”
Modern translation:
Hélas, Sainte Marie, et que sont
Ces trois morts qui sont si hideux
M’ont fair méplorer en grande tristesse
De les voir ainsi piteux.”

These words evidently allude to some tragic event illustrated by the painting above. The portion of this painting which is preserved shows the hind legs of a horse, followed by another horse of which the fore legs appear.

Between the two is the hand of a cavalier, stretching down to a dog, whose head is raised toward his master, who is mounted on the leading horse. The inscription is beneath this fresco. A few inches away from it, to the left, are the fragment of another fresco, consisting of the last words of four lines.

Di|eu merci . . . . eu mercy
Co|rps noirci . . . ors. Nerci
êtr|e saintes . . . e soytes
e|t hontes . . . . hontes

One legend is as follows:

"Three princes on horseback, followed by a brilliant cortège, approach three open sepulchres, where they see three horrible corpses. Near these stand the old St Macaire pointing with his fiuger, as a salutary reminder of the nearness of death."

This fresco represents the old legend "Les trois vifs et les trois morts ."

Dogs, falcons and other incidents of the chase animate the scene.

There arc no less than nine English churches containing frescoes illustrative of this scene, including Charlwood, Surrey; Battle, Sussex; and Ditchingham, Norfolk. The frescoe in St Clement's Church probably originally represented the complete subject.

The entrance to the belfry

North transept

In the north transept, on each side of the arch by which it communicates with the eastern portion of the building, are portions of two female figures :-

  • The bust and left hand, with the wing of a dragon remaining. This fresco is supposed to represent St Margaret of Antioch emerging from the body of a dragon. St Marguerite, virgin and martyr, who died at Antioch 275 AD, 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 clave him in two, and allowed her to escape safely. The Crusaders brought over this Eastern legend in the 11th century, and it became very popular, since the dragon, was supposed to personify the Saracens. For this reason, about that period, St George became the patron saint of England. No less than 238 English churches are dedicated to St Marguerite.
  • A figure, of which the head is gone, holding in the left hand a palm, the sign of martyrdom. Nearby is a column. This fresco probably has reference to St Barbara of Heliopolis in Egypt, concerning whom the following legend exists:
The chancel

St Barbara of Heliopolis was beheaded for the faith in 235. She had heen miraculously converted to Christianity. The attributes of this saint are the tower with three windows, the palm, (sign of martyrdom), or a long feather indicating that stripes fell lightly on her. At the time of her conversion, her father (a pagan) was building a house with one window. During her father's temporary absence, St Barbara ordered the workmen to introduce three windows, to signify the mystery of the Holy Trinity. On her father's return, St Barbara proclaimed her conversion to Christianity. When her father learnt this he himself beheaded her, but fell, struck by lightning, immediately afterwards.

In the north-east corner of the nave, to the east of a narrow window, is the figure of a woman, well drawn. She wears a velvet head-dress and her head is surrounded by an aureole in the form of a cross. In her right hand she holds a vase, and is lifting the cover with her left. To the left of the fresco is a banderole bcaring in Gothic letters the name "Maria", followed by a longer word also beginning with M. The fresco probably reprsents Mary Magdalene holding the vase of perfumes with which she anointed the Saviour.

St Barbara

St Barbara received the sacraments just before her death, by angels sent from heaven. She has ever since been the tutelary saint of those exposed to sudden death - particularly soldiers and sailors. There is only one English Church dedicated to St Barbara.

On the north side of the nave is a repre entation of St Michael slaying the dragon. The archangel is in complete armour, but without 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. There is no clear explanation of this fine fresco. The broken sword may be due to the wish to inculcate the lesson that the sword of celestial justice being broken, death has lost its terrors. The presence of his fresco is attributed 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 land, for a short time, in the 15th. century, he may have had the work executed as a sign of victory.

On the west side of the same window are indistinct traces of another woman seated on a Roman chair. This figure also bears a head-dress and an aureole. The word "Sancta" is decipherable in Gothic letters. It is supposoed to represent the Virgin Mary with the infant Jesus in her arms.

There are traces of colour in all these frescoes, and judging by the lettering, they date from the second half of the 15th century, though some of them may be earlier, as the head-dresses would seem to belong to the 14th century, and the armour of St Michael indicates the same period.

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