From the outside St Matthew's Church is extraordinarly dull, but step inside and a remarkable world of glass is revealed - and not just any glass, because the church is decorated with masterpieces created by French artist Rene Lalique.
Lalique was a neighbour in the South of France of Florence Boot, Lady Trent, the widow of Jesse Boot, founder of the British chemists' chain. Lady Trent's money and Lalique's extraordinary skill with glass were to combine to create a fitting memorial to her late husband, creating unique fixtures and fittings for the church which stands across the road from her principal residence, Villa Millbrook.
The glass front doors are a clue, but only a small clue to what lies beyond them, fantastic glass creations started by Lalique between 1932 and 1934, which have made the church famous throughout the world as The Glass Church.
Opalescent panels, a magnificent altar cross, a glass font – probably unique – the Jersey lily motif, and wonderful Art Deco angels make the church a peerless treasure.
The oak pews, pulpit and lectern, were created by Jersey architect A B Grayson.
From the church website St Matthew’s started life in the 1840s as a modest chapel of ease, built at the foot of Mont Felard to spare parishioners the long uphill trek to the ancient Parish Church of St Lawrence. Over the next century the hamlet of Millbrook flourished, from the coming of the Jersey Railway to the age when seaplanes landed in St Aubin’s Bay.
A generous gift changed everything. Millbrook resident Florence Boot decided to honour her late husband Jesse, the founder of Boots the Chemist, by rebuilding the church in his memory. Alongside St Matthew’s, she gifted the beautiful Coronation Park to the people of Jersey. She conjured the talents of René Lalique, artisan extraordinaire and the foremost glassmaker of the age, to decorate the entire church with his finest work. No similar Lalique commission survives anywhere else in the world.
In September 1934, St Matthew’s became the Glass Church. Two frosted glass angels set in the double doors welcome visitors to this astonishing work of art. The centrepiece is a shining, towering cross over three metres high, festooned with lilies and soaring over the altar. It is flanked by twin illuminated pillars and framed by four glass screens that shimmer like a wall of ice.
In the Lady Chapel, four immense crystalline angels, illuminated as if by heavenly fire, survey the worshippers. Their eyes are clear and wide, seemingly transfixed by the light that shines in the darkness, calling them home. The font is a marvel, forged in pure glass and autographed by Lalique himself. The iconic Jersey lily, a motif of purity, adorns everything. The subdued stonework of local architect A.B. Grayson beautifully complements Lalique’s work, providing an exquisitely pure canvas to magnify the power of light.
“Lalique’s glass has the ethereal brilliance of Arctic ice”, wrote a contemporary critic. This verdict still holds true 80 years after the miracle of Millbrook was first bequeathed to the people of Jersey.
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