St Martin Parish Church

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St Martin Parish Church



This article by R G Warton was first published in the 1915 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise


The church in 1854

Village chantry church

Near on 1,000 years ago. in a small village close towards the eastern end of Jersey, a little chantry chapel stood, one of nine others within its parish boundary. The full appellation of this parish, according to old records, was St Martin-le-Vieux, a name its church retains, occupying today the site on which the chantry stood - in fact this chantry formed the church's nucleus.

The church itself stands at a central point, from which winding country lanes, lovely in summer, radiate in various directions. Secluded though it be, St Martin's has a history full of interest.

A plank across the sea

Leaders of men stand forth among its roll of Rectors. Its eastern slopes trend towards the coast of Normandy, whence, as tradition has it, diocesans from Coutances crossed the dividing line, bridged by a single plank,

"L'Eglise paroissiale connue aujourd'hui sous Ie nom de St Mar¬tin, à été pendant plusieurs siècles l'Eglise ou residait Ie Doyen, et s'appelait alors St Martin-Ie-Vieux. S'il fallait chercher des causes de cette preference, nous les trouverions, 1 dans la proximite de cette paroisse au Siège Episcopal de Coutances, que l’on decouvre, de son clocher, a vue d'ceil ; 2 de ce qu'alors de sa fondation, les terres de cette paroisse s'abaissaient vers la côte de Normandie à une distance qui approchait cette paroisse si pres des côtes de France qu'une planche suffisait pour traverser l'espace qui separait un littoral de l'autre, et 3 par Ie voisinage du Chateau Mont Orgueil, de l'antiquité du village de Gouray, et tout Ie littoral des côtes est et sud avec la France, avant la submersion des terres qui nous rapprochaient de la Normandie à l'époque ou cette eglise fut bastie".

Nor is this story so chimerical as some might imagine, since evidence exists beyond a doubt, of waving forests, now submerged, which once usurped the area at present washed by 50 miles of sea.

The buttress tablet

Vigilant outpost

In those old days, when the"entente" 'twixt Jersey and its Gallic neighbours was not at all times "cordiale ", St Martin stood a Jersey outpost, charged with a constant vigilance. In mediaeval times it held a proud position. Seat of the Bishop's Commissaries and early Deans, it gained reflected lustre from proximity to the cathedral city, Coutances.

Again, the castle of Mount Orgueil, that splendid fortress of unknown origin, hard by, with prehistoric Faldouet, and Rozel's ancient manor, lent a significance peculiarly its own.

In those same days, too (not so bad as some folks think), when intellect and power were centred in the clergy, full many an anxious conference must have been held within the parish precincts, and many a grave decision reached, dependent on the wit of men connected with this church.

Patron saint

St Martin's patron saint was the venerable St Martin of Tours, (a favourite in Jersey) whilst nomination to the cure rested with the Abbot of Cerisy, not Cherbourg as sometimes stated.

This Abbot received 100 sols of pension; the Rector a third part of the tithe, with 26 vergees of glebe. The Abbot of St Sauveur-le-Vicomte claimed the sixth sheaf; the Abbesses of Caen and Montivilliers a fourth part of the tithe, worth seventy pounds tournois. Hence it appears the Rector did not obtain the lion's share of the parochial revenues. Still, he did not do so badly, since his Bishop was bound to see him provided with sufficient means for "personal support and carrying on his work".

Tithes at this period were of two descriptions, viz "Predial" and "Personal". The first included “corn, wine bestayle, and things coming of the earth, whilst the last comyth only of the person, as be merchandy, and werkmanschyp". A further revenue, however, accrued from money payments, termed oblations, consisting of fees for baptisms, marriages, funerals, etc, considered the Rector's personal property.

There were also certain Rentes (paid in money or in kind) due to the several parishes.

The sanctuary

English style

It has been remarked, on high authority, that St Martin's Church approaches more nearly to the English type than any other in the Island. The tower, with its lancet windows, is quite in that style, as also the octagonal spire, heavy pedimented buttresses, and pillars of the nave. Otherwise the Island type asserts itself, a mixture for the most part of Norman, French, and English Gothic.

As previously remarked, a chantry was its origin. Such chantries were very common in bygone days. Rich in their decorations, supplied with costly hangings, antique vestments, and altar furniture, also the home of valuable relics, they were accorded an almost superstitious reverence by the parishioners. In some of them were statues, before which lights were kept burning day and night, whilst mass was said at frequent intervals for their pious founders.

Returning, however, to the church itself, but a small portion of the original building still remains, represented by the chancel, part of the nave and lower portion of the tower, As time went on transepts were added, so that the building assumed the familiar, normal, Latin cross.

The interior of the church

Alterations

As in the case of other Jersey churches, owing to enlargements and alterations at various periods, this plan soon disappeared, resulting in somewhat of a medley. It seems probable, at the outset, chancel and nave were similar in shape and size, the former to be obliterated by a southern aisle, the latter losing proportion, through extension westward. When stone replaced a wooden roof, extra support was needed, and supplied, by buttresses outside and within. These huge projections are unique even in this land of massive masonry.

The exterior of St Martin's Church, especially from the SW, is not unpleasing, though its long straight line of roof, devoid of pinnacle or ornament, gives the idea of something wanting. Had the south aisle but terminated at the cross, or transept, leaving the chancel isolated, the general effect would have been both more correct and more attractive.

A western porch adds yet to this exaggerated length. Proportion cannot be recognised as a strong point in this church.

Sundial

Glancing round the exterior a visitor will notice over the eaves of the south aisle, immediately beneath the clock, a sundial. This antique time-keeper (1786) bears the initials G B reminiscent of the historic Bandinel family, so closely connected with the parish life of St. Martin.

On the buttress to the east of the sundial is a coat of arms, the origin of which remains obscure, both as regards its history and position. By some it is supposed to be a memorial of one who undertook the restoration of that portion of the building where it is located, in other words a monumental tablet.

Others believe it had to do with the ancient manor of Rozel, whilst a third opinion is it filled the tympanum of an arch, over the south porch (a patron stone) being removed on reconstruction to its present position, in the nearest buttress. The tablet is charged with a lion, with two savages as supporters, and a banneret as crest. The upper portion is surmounted by the bust of a woman. It cannot be contemporary with the stonework in which it is inserted. A triangle, the sign of the Trinity, may be traced.

The interior of the church

Dean Mabon’s Chapel

One of the most ancient and interesting portions of St Martin's is that now known as Dean Mabon's Chapel, on the north side. Probably, when built, it abutted on the transept, or it may have formed a portion of it. The name Mabon is that of a famous pre-reformation Dean, a man of many parts. He became Rector of St Martin in 1519, and was at the same time appointed Dean of Jersey.

For several years he acted as Bailiff. He made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and built the Chapel of La Hougue Bie, (Prince's Tower). According to tradition, he closed his own adventurous career, coming to an untimely end, by his own hand, in the chapel which bears his name. He was buried outside the north wall of the church.

This Mabon Chapel has been used at different times as a chantry, mortuary, and arsenal. It now forms the organ chamber. Over it a loft was constructed, as a harness room, the north wall being pierced to admit artillery.

The interior of St Martin's Church is saved from mediocrity by its beautiful and abundant glass, and fine furniture. Nearly every window is filled.

Ecce Homo

Not ancient, and not of equal merit, yet as a whole these windows form a collection, of which any church might well be proud. Pre-eminent amongst them is the lovely "Ecce Homo", by Curteis. In design, drawing, and exquisitely subdued colouring, it is not surpassed by anything in the Channel Islands. A visitor would be well repaid for a journey to St Martin's, if only to see this splendid specimen of modern stained glass. It occupies the western end of the south aisle.

Other subjects worthy of attention are “The Good Shepherd", presented by John A Falle, "The Adoration" (east window of the south chapel), "St Paul preaching at Athens", presented by churchwardens past and present, bearing the inscription "Don des Surveillants sous-nommes 1750-1890 ", with a list of 23 donors. It occupies the south side of the church. A three light window, representing “The Ascension", surmounts a tryptich, at the east end of the south chancel aisle.

It was presented by the late Seigneur of Rozel, and forms a fine vista, viewed from the Nave. "The Annunciation", by Bosdet, and two other designs by the same Jersey artist, are worthy specimens of his taste and talent.

A visit to the church, however, is the best and only means of arriving at a due appreciation of the individual merit, and combined effect of the glass which adorns it, affording a play of colour, combined with effective light and shadow, both peaceful and impressive.

The church plate

Furniture

And now, a word as to the furniture, provided by the liberality of many parishioners.

Chancel and sanctuary were supplied with everything pertaining to their services, at the hands of the Rev W Lempriere, Seigneur of Rozel. His offering included choir stalls and altar rails; also the font. A pulpit, in keeping with the stalls, and a splendid lectern, in brass, were due to other donors. Lastly, the clock, purchased by subscription of the parishioners, bears witness to the desire of every class to maintain the status of their parish church. Amongst other antiquities, remains of four piscinas, which in former times indicated so many side altars, may be traced .

Paradoxical as it may seem, the fact remains that all these beautiful windows, all this costly furniture, all these spontaneous gifts, all this affectionate regard, is the outcome of Puritan vandalism. Had not the Puritans destroyed the ancient glass, and smeared with whitewash walls that were possibly adorned by frescoes, had they not broken or made away with anything and every thing that did not accord with their own narrow views, the parish churches of Jersey, and for that matter, of England too, would have been far less beautiful, far less adapted to their sacred functions, than they are today.

Three galleries

No fewer than three galleries were erected. One at the west end of the church reached by a staircase from the west porch; a second built out from the the north wall of the nave, to which an exterior staircase led; and a third at the east end of the church (an attempt at free education) which was used as a school-room, to which a stone staircase, outside the church, near the window, gave access. Adjacent to this, a porch was built, (since demolished) known as the Porte des Morts, and used for funeral processions. But to resume, arcades, separating the older portion of the building from the aisles, consist of short octagonal columns, with pointed arches bearing the double chamfer, a rather uncommon ornament in Jersey.

Timeline

The following may afford an approximate chronological record of the growth and progress of St Martin-Ie-Vieux:

  • 10th century (possibly) - The nucleus chantry chapel existed.
  • 11th century (possibly) -The eastern end of the present nave existed, as a separate chantry.
  • 12th century (probably) - The two chapels were united to form a single edifice, without transepts, and lower portion of the tower built.
  • 13th century - The tower raised, and surmounted by an octagonal spire, whilst a vaulted, barrel, stone roof replaced the original timber roof. A chapel was added on the south side of the chancel, from which it was separated by two gothic arches .
  • 15th century - A south aisle was added, extending along the whole length of the building.
  • 17th century - Era of Puritan occupation and desecration, happily followed by restoration, to meet the requirements of the re-established Church of England. Tho old north chapel received the name of "Chapelle Mabon" from the pre-Reformation Dean, previously referred to.
  • 18th century - The fabric generally strengthened, by means of additional buttresses, required to support the strain of heavy stone roofs.
  • 19th century - Final restoration of the church, nnder the superintendence of the Rector, Rev Thomas Le Neveu. 1877.

St Martin's Church contains some interesting mural tablets. One amongst them is to the memory of the Rev Francis Le Couteur, who held the Cure for nearly half a century.

Church plate

The church plate, consisting of eight pieces, presented by various parishioners, though of value, does not possess any especial historic association. It is Post-Reformation, and comprises the following:

  • A Silver chalice, inscribed "Lorrans Baudains".
  • A Silver chalice, inscribed "Pour la paroisse de Saint Martin"
  • A Silver chalice, without inscription
  • A Silver chalice, inscribed "Don de Mr Abraham Horman à L'Eglise de St Martin à Jersey 1747"
  • A Silver flagon and alms dish, inscribed "A l'Eglise de St Martin I877 Don de Dlle A M Vibert en memoire du Rev Charles Le Touzel son grandpere, autrefois Recteur,
  • A Chalice and paten in silver, inscribed "Don d'Anne Gallichan 1880"

In addition to the above, it may be noted that the church possesses some ancient offertory collecting-pots, similar to those in use in other Jersey churches, including St Brelade, St Ouen.

Rectors

The list of Rectors itself, is a remarkable testimony to the antiquity and importance of the church. It numbers upwards of 30, commencing with Robert Florie (1196) and continuing unbroken to the present day.

Amongst the most notable names may be mentioned the three Francis Le Couteurs, (father, son, and grandson) who succeeded one another (1672-1717) and of course the famous Dean Bandinel, whose descendant, George Bandinel, became churchwarden, and presented the sundial. He also was appointed Vicomte of Jersey, although the Dean's family had been declared "for ever incapable of holding any place of honor or profit under the Crown".

The names of D'Assigny, (1651-1600) a Parliamentary supporter, and Mabon, previously referred to, are notable rather for their versatile characters, than their piety.

No fewer than five Deans, and two Sub-Deans figure in the list of St Martin's Rectors.

It only remains to add that this church and parish, under the genial influence of its present Rector, continues to flourish and maintain their high prestige of centuries. It still forms an active centre of religious and social influence, not confined to its own limited boundaries, but felt throughout the Island. May it long continue so to do!
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