St Lawrence Parish Church

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This article by R G Warton was first published in the 1917 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

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This Church is named after St Lawrence the Martyr. Its patron was the Abbott of Blanche-Lande who received the third part of the tythe. The Abbott of St Sauveur-Le-Vicomte was allotted one sixth, and the Bishop of Avranches a half. The minister had sixteen vergees of land, and the living was worth 35 livres tournois,

St Lawrence Church

Differing opinions

Perhaps none of our parish churches has been subject to more varied criticism than St Lawrence. "The Church of St Lawrence the Martyr", says one authority, "is one of the most beautiful and interesting in Jersey". "The exceeding elegance of its northern annex, known as the Hamptonne Chapel, adds to its original merit ".

By others, it has been described as "A church of many parts, constructed by many builders, at many periods" and again it has been alleged, that "Its character has been almost destroyed by injudicious alterations, which have been effected without the smallest attention to uniformity of design". Possibly the ‘’via media" may be nearer truth than either view.

St Lawrence's Church certainly pleases the eye; it is certainly not symmetrical; and it certainly possesses many features of much interest. The saddle-back tower, the 15th century north chapel, its western doorways and southern porch are unique.

"The man in the street ", or rather, the road, looking at it for the first time, experiences a feeling that it is above the average, and worthy of its object, in spite of an inclinatiou to run riot, possibly, on account of this supposed defect.

How many of the wondrous cathedrals of England are uniform either in design or detail? How many of them, from the very fact of variety in style and structure, telling of different times and different tastes, prove that a strict adherence to architectural propriety and rule is not essential?

St Lawrence Church

Landmark

So, with the subject of this sketch. It has met the requirements of many a past generation, growing as the need arose, and now stands, set on a hill, a landmark for the coutry round, a monument of a faith of more than 1,000 years.

Picture its course of evolution. The pristine chantry built by some pious founder, for the private purposes of self and family. As time went on its use was placed at the disposal of those outside the family connection, and then, as local needs kept growing, enlargement was called, for, and permitted - a nave, transepts, tower and aisles, sprang up, probably in the order named, memorial gifts and ornaments followed, amongst them, the famous "Hamptonne chapel ".

Then came the Puritan blight, concerning which the less that's said the better, and then, once more a period of steady progress under the care of priests and people, until some 30 years ago, a final restoration, skillfully carried out, resulted in the present handsome building.

Restoration

Photographs in possession of the Rector show its dilapidated state in 1888, when the latest restoration was commenced.

In August of that year a visit was paid by a committee of La Société Jersiaise. A summary of its report is given herewith, by way of introduction for further comment. The Church consists of four distinct parts.

  • The choir. No portion remains of the primitive chapel, which might possibly be found on the site of the choir. The present choir does not appear to date beyond the middle of the 15th century. It bears on its walls several ancient memorial tablets. The large east window is more recent than the gable enclosing it, and is probably contemporaneous with the north chapel.
  • The tower, transepts and nave were the first additions to the ancient chapel. The tower rests on four massive arches and contains a bell bearing the following inscription:
+ CETE CLOCHE EST POUR LA PAROISSE DE SAINT LORANS A IARZE AO 1592 I w

A tradition exists that the belfry had been struck by lightning. Careful examination of its interior failed to confirm any such idea; on the contrary, the vaulted roof, covered "en batiere", appears to be of considerable antiquity.

The north transept was almost entirely demolished when the north chapel was erected. The south transept now contains the principal porch, or entrance to the church. There is also an "armoire" (ambry) inserted in its east wall.

The nave dates probably from the end of the 12th or beginning of the 13th century. The existence of "arcs doubleaux’’ suggests a period prior to the 14th century.

  • The aisle is separated from the nave by semi-circular arches. This purely architectural arrangement was necessitated by the small height of the wall through which the arches were pierced and affords no ground for the idea that this portion of the church pertained to the Romanesque period. The mouldings further contradict any such idea, The shape of the buttresses, the masonry placed in regular layers, and the Western door with its segmental arch (en arc surbaissé) point to the close of the 15th or opening of the 16th century.
  • The north chapel, built in the Flamboyant style, was added in 1524, probably at the expense of the Hamptonne family, whose arms appear outside, on a stone inserted in its NE buttress, and inside, on one of the bosses of the vaulting.

This chapel is separated from the chancel by pointed arches, springing from octagonal pillars, without capitals. A large pointed arch of the same description, placed on the east wall of the north transept, divides that portion of the old church from the new chapel.

Several modifications arose from this last named addition.

Inside the church

Tower access

Access to the tower was interrupted from the north transept, tbe latter being enlarged uud roofed, in the same style as the chapel. A turret was built at the NW angle, to communicate with the tower.

Here, the committee was divided as to the relative antiquity of the north chapel and the adjacent aisle. Some were of opinion that the former was anterior, urging the similarity in style between arcade and chapel. They also pointed out that the mouldings of the turret to the north of the church would indicate that this part was later than the nave-aisle. Others, considered the aisle to be the later addition, basing their view on the fact that the woodwork of the north chapel had been raised, and that the south gable thus raised supported the roof of the aisle. They were strengthened in this view, since, in their opinion, there was evidence as to the aisle being added after the enlargement of the north transept, that is to say after the addition of the north chapel.

Thus was the question left - an open one.

The work of restoration took over four years and was completed under the superintendence of the present Rector in 1892.

For a moment now, let us assume the role of critic of the critics; at the outset admitting that the conclusions the committee arrived at were, most likely, in the main correct.

As regards the nucleus chantry, direct evidence is wanting, no trace of it having been so far discovered. At the same time the hypothesis is probably tenable, since St Lawrence would only he falling into line with most of its sister parish churches, concerning the origin of which there is no doubt.

Inside the church

First additions

Accepting then this nucleus as a fact, we come to the first additions, assumed to have been the tower and transepts. They ‘’may’’ have been, but judging again by experience derived from other examples, it would be more in keeping with the usual course of evolution if the first enlargement had consisted in the construction of a nave, providing space for a congregation.

Such would appear the natural course. First the head (the chancel), then the body (the nave), lastly the central organisation of tower and transepts.

The original chapel (taking its existence for granted) would date from the 9th or possibly the 8th century. The present chancel, supposed to occupy the site of this chapel, displays 15th century characteristics, and seems to be practically contemporaneous with the north (Hamptonne) chapel, though rather earlier.

There is reason to believe that the nave, a primary addition, is 12th or early 13th century work. Then comes the knotty question of the northern aisle. Is it earlier or later than the chapel? Not without diffidence, the writer thinks a balance of evidence tends in favour of the latter presumption. There is little doubt, however, that the two structures are almost contemporaneous, and hence the actual point at issue is not of supreme importance.

The fact, however, that woodwork forming a portion of the Hamptonne Chapel had to be raised, and that the south gable, thus raised, actually supports the south aisle roof, seems circumstantial evidence that the latter is tbe more recent structure,

Inside the church

Casual visit

Changing our role once more, let us stroll round the church as a casual visitor. Ascending from the sea, we mount the hill on which it stands, reminded that the line of roadway approximately marks that of the ancient perquage, or path, by which wrong-doers who had found a temporary haven in the church were escorted thence to the seashore, and there embarked, never again to set foot on their native Island.

Emerging from the avenue of trees which skirts this road, the south side of St Lawrence comes into view. Its lofty gabled tower, with Norman lights, stands forth, over the main south entrance, This consists of an ancient gabled doorway deeply recessed, in the south transept. Above, a transition window pierces the gable. Similar windows, separated by sturdy buttresses, complete the facade.

Tuming to the left we view the western end, possibly most interesting to a stranger. Here, standing side by side, are two doorways, one, of the flattened type, known as "surbaissé", now blocked and disused; the other, a curious receding structure consisting of pointed arches, set in a pedimentary projection, and high gable. It leads, by two descending steps, to tbe level of the nave. Separating the two, a flattened buttress. older than either.

Of the northern side, the Hamptonne Chapel naturally forms the feature; a 15th century work, well described, as of "exceeding elegance ". This chapel was erected by Sire Louis Hamptonne, a former Vice-Dean and Rector, from whom it takes its name.

Inside the church

Miniature cathedral

Lastly, the east end of the church attracts our notice. Viewed from the northeast angle (and thus including the northern facade) it presents quite a striking aspect. From here, it mght indeed be taken for a "miniature cathedral", as it was often termed by the late Dean Balleine.

Two large flamboyant windows, filled with graceful tracery, stand side by side, each in its high pitched gable; the younger crocketed, the older plain. The tower, "en batière", rises behind, whilst buttresses and gargoyles, dripstones and other minor details, all worthy of attention, are scattered almost broadcast. A long line of masonry, forming the northern front, stretches east and west, giving the idea of something above the village parish church.

The interior of St Lawrence’s does not call for lengthy notice, since it presents a curious mixture of pointed and circular arches, with simple and ornamental relief. The pillars of the choir are unusual in form, being octagonal, with mouldings. Timber work forms its roofing, whilst a panelled stone ceiling replaces the vaulting of the nave.

The interior of the Hamptonne Chapel naturally calls for a word or two. It contains the only groined roof in Jersey, if we except one or two lanterns. Its vaulting is quadrilateral, but unfortunately springs from corbels, instead of shafts, conveying the idea of something added. This destroys the advantages a vault is supposed to have over other roofs, in carrying the eye upwards, instead of breaking its course. The keystones are carved in bosses.

Inside the church

Double lantern

The remaining interior of the church need not detain us, except perhaps to note a somewhat curious feature - its double lantern. This suggests that there had been at some time an intention of erecting two towers, side by side.

The northern nave, or aisle, is separated from the southern by cylindrical pillars carrying semi-circular arches.

An ancient communion table at one time stood on a platform in the north aisle, the west end of which, walled off, formed an armonry and sexton's store.

An altar stone was found during the work of restoration, buried below the east window, where possibly the high altar stood.

The church in about 1890

Granite column

Any account of St Lawrence's Church would be incomplete without reference to an interesting relic unearthed in 1891, during the process of restoration. It consists in the portion of a semi-circular granite column, with well preserved capital.

For the following details, the writer is indebted to Jurat Henry Godfrey, who contributed a paper on the subject to the ‘’Societe Francaise d' Archeologie ‘’, published in its ‘’Bulletin Monumental’’ 1894.

The flat side of the column is covered with interlacing ornament carved on the stone.

The upper portion (abacus) is in the form of a rectangle, and shows an inscription in three lines, roughly sculptured. To read this inscription, on the column standing upright, the semi-circular face should be turned towards the reader. If the stone is laid down, the flat and ornamental side is uppermost. The column was found upright, two or three feet below the soil of the nave, with its broken end uppermost.

Its dimensions are: height, 101 cm; circumference, 92 cm; greatest diameter, 30 cm.

The rectangular upper side, bearing the inscription, is 48 cm in length, by 33 in width.

The inscription appears to be:

UTE PRE

SBY TER

R I (T H) 0 N E

(Ute, Presbyter (priest) of Ritton)

It was thought at first that the name "Ritton" referred to Rennes, the Rhedonica of Gregory of Tours, or to Redon, in Brittany, but this monastery is always called "Roton" or "Rotonum". It is, however, probable that in Normandy, or Brittany, the word corresponding to the ancient form "Ritho" must be sought, since, at the period attributed to the inscription, the Channel Islands formed part of the diocese of Coutances.

It would pertain to the Carlovingian epoch, that is, to the end of the 9th or commencement of the 10th century. It formed part of a huilding near the church, which haying been destroyed, the column was made use of as the tombstone of a priest who had died in the parish. Two widely splayed slit windows adorn the west end, from whence a fine vista of the church may be obtained, looking east.

Little more remains to be said. The plate is not of special interest, its most ancient pieces consisting in a set of four chalices, dating from 1634 - three of them plain, the fourth elaborately ornamented.

The glass, as a whole, is good, particularly the east window, Presented by an anonymous donor, it bears the simple inscripsion "To the glory of God ", and is the work of tbe well-known Jersey artist, H J Bosdet.

The remaining windows of the chancel were also presented - one by the officers of the St Lawrence Battalion of the Royal Jersey Militia, on its disbandment in 1877. On either side rest the old colours of the Regiment.

Mural tablets are few, but numerous gifts of value and beauty are due to the generosity of different parishioners, amongst them, the pulpit, font, and handsome lectern (eagle displayed ) in oak.

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