St Thomas's Church
St Thomas’ Church is the principal Roman Catholic church in Jersey. It is said by some to be the finest example of modern ecclesiastical architecture in the Channel Islands.
When the Oblate Fathers of Mary Immaculate arrived in Jersey at the end of 1880 they found the actual church much too small for the numerous population of French-speaking Catholics. While these numbered over 4,000, the Church itself could accommodate, at the utmost, only 400.
Their predecessors, no doubt, had been anxious to solve the problem, but were held up by the difficulty of finding among a poor congregation, for the majority, the resources necessary for building a suitable place of worship. One of these, the Rev F Volkerick, Rector of St Thomas' from 1860 to 1878, having already provided a school for girls in 1869, with the assistance of the Ladies of St Andrew, and desirous to have a proper parochial school for boys, who were badly off for room in New Street, and a more spacious church, had acquired part of the necessary ground in Val Plaisant, and had collected some £2,000 for this double purpose.
He was not given the pleasure of realizing his project. After 18 years of a very saintly and apostolic ministry in Jersey, he was recalled to England and was succeeded by the Rev Fr Morin, a French priest from the diocese of Rennes. He, in turn, was replaced very shortly after, at the end of 1880, by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, who, when the Religious Orders in France were refused the liberty of association, were invited by Bishop Dana, the Vicar Apostolic of London, to take charge.
Fr Bourde was the first Oblate of MI to he named Superior and Rector of St Thomas's. He held office from 1880 to the end of 1885. It was during his Rectorship that Rev Fr Michaux, OMI, was invited to preach at St Thomas' Church in the special occasion of First Communion, and, as events proved, this choice was a very providential one.
Fr Michaux was grieved at the sight of the children crowded together in the sanctuary, and of their parents and other members of the faithful being unable to find a seat in the much too small edifice. “What" said he, "in a town like St Helier where error is glaringly spread abroad, where there are decent churches for all denominations, should Catholics he the only ones without a church worthy of their Faith and of their God?"
I dare say that this inspired apostrophe of the preacher decided the building of the new chuich at an early date, for Fr Michaux was asked to undertake the work he had suggested.
The Rev Father, who had already given proof of his ability in the restoration of the famous sanctuary of Our Lady of Sion in Lorraine, France, was the man sent by Divine Providence to the Jersey French-speaking Catholics to enable them to realize their dream of many years.
He began his heavy task of collecting offerings, being greatly helped by the Rev Fr Volkerick was still greatly devoted to his former parish, where he had left half of his heart, made him acquainted with all his benefactors or would-be benefactors.
Indeed all the parishioners, rich and poor, were generous in their help. He sent an appeal to all the descendants cf the noble refugees who came to Jersey during the French Revolution and to the wealthy Catholics of France. The answers to his call were so numerous that he was able to lay the foundation stone of the new church on 6 September 1883.
Four years later, 30 October 1887, the Church was solemnly blessed and opened to public worship. The consecration took place on 5 September 1893, to commemorate the centenary of the re-establishment of the Catholic Church in the Channel Isles, in 1793, when the bill of tolerance was handed over to Mathieu de Gruchy, a Jerseyman and a convert who became a priest in the French diocese of Lucon before the Revolution.
Having refused to subscribe to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, he had to fly and came to his native land where also five bishops and more than 2,000 priests took shelter during these hard days. Of these, two bishops and nearly 200 priests died during their exile in the Island.
St Thomas' Church is constructed in the 13th century style and comprises nave, aisles, transepts with chapels forming the arms of the Cross, and a chancel. Two small chapels lengthening the lower sides westward have the appearance of chancels to either aisles. On each side of the tower are two other chapels with groined vaults of a very pleasing effect, that at the south end having a deep recess in the centre of which stands the baptismal font.
At the apsis of the chancel and in corbel on a low granite shaft with moulded base and sculptured capital is a richly framed niche, occupying the centre arch of an arcade with a bud ornament. Inside the niche is a group representing the Apparition of the Sacred Heart to St Margaret Mary at Paray-le-Monial (France). Above is a circular window with a twelve section tracery work.
The simili-fresco paintings on either side of the rose window represent, at the top, left to right, St Michael and guardian angels, angels playing musical instruments and angels singing, and above the cornice, saints: St Thomas of Aquinas and St Thomas the Apostle, St Louis, King of France, St George, the patron saint of England, St Joan of Arc, St Peter, the Blessed Virgin, St Joseph, St Anne, two Carmelite Saints, and two Virgins and Martyrs. They are by P Dubois and P Couturier of the Maurice Denis School of Art.
The two other paintings in the lancet arches, with a blending of allegorical and realistic designs, symbolize the Good Shepherd and the Holy Redeemer. They are by P Couturier.
The hollow of the cornice under the niche, the lancets and on the sides of the altar is of a richly foliated work.
The nave is divided into seven arches, two lancets and five large; the chancel is separated from the adjacent chapels by a large equilateral arch and a lancet-arch. Each of the lancets, west and east of the transepts is surmounted by sculptured brackets to receive statues for which sculptured canopies have also been arranged. The walls of the nave and of the chancel are supported on each side by piers of clustered shafts in Crozannes stone. Each semi-detached shaft is crowned with a sculptured capital from which spring the arches. Each capital has a different design of sculptured foliage, flowers and buds, both in the nave and chancel and the aisles and transepts.
All the sculpturing inside and outside is the work of the late Mr Bedane, the sculptor, and gives abundant evidence of his talent.
The height of the nave is 60 feet beneath the vault; that of the aisles is 30 feet.
The length of the nave is 109 feet from the communion rail to the inner door of the porch; the chancel is 36 feet. The breadth across the transepts is 89 feet.
The total length of the Church externally is 179 feet from the niche to the portal; internally it is 163 feet, inclusive of the depth of the porch under the steeple which is 18 feet.
All the groined roof is made of hollow bricks covered with plaster, having the appearance of stone, that of the nave, of the chancel, of the transepts and of the chapels forming the arms of the Cross is ornamented with moulded arches with sculptured keystones.
The vaults arc strengthened by interior and exterior buttresses surmounted by gargoyles representing chimeras of different kinds
The tower, built of Brittany granite, is composed of a rectangular portion into which the portal opens and is surmounted by an open-work spire. The portal, with a tympanum representing the Apparition of our Lord, after His Resurrection, to St Thomas, the Apostle, and signed Louis Dupont, is surmounted by a beautiful three-light window with mullions and a tracery rose, in blue granite of Brittany very artistically sculptured.
It gives light to the gallery from the east. The steeple is 111 feet from the ground to the spire windows, and from these to the summit of the Cross it is 85 feet, giving a total of 196 feet.
The portion of the tower above the roof of the church holds the belfry with a peal of five bells :
- treble B, 5 cwt, Eloise-Ida-Therese de l’FJ
- 3 F sharp, 16 cwt, Clotilde-Louise-Leonie
- 4 E, 20 cwt, Marie Immaculee
- tenor B, 52 cwt, Anne-Marie-Andree-Ignace
Treble B and G sharp have been cast by Cornille-Havard of Villedieu, while F sharp, E and tenor B are by Paccard of Annecy.
In the room below the belfry is the clock which is moved electrically and strikes the hours only.
The organ and gallery
The organ was erected in 1959 by Henry Willis and Sons. It is an instrument fully reconditioned with two keyboards and a pedal-board. It seems to be ideal for our church and presents a fine feature upon the gallery.
This vast gallery, extending over the porch and projecting into the nave, is supported by a three arched vault with mouldings at the groins. The arches, at the back, spring from the clustered pillars flanking the tower wall, and, on the front side, from the two last piers of clustered shafts of the nave and from the two circular piers, with mouldings at the base and finely sculptured capitals, which stand in the centre, forming three arches, one large and two small. On top of these runs the sloped cornice with a parapet in three panels of quatrefoil open-work.
The lancet arches at the sides and under the gallery are of a pleasing effect.
The paving of the chancel and side chapels is in ceramic squares from Anneuil; that of the transepts, of the nave and of the aisles is from a Maubeuge factory.
The pulpit which stands against the second pillar of the nave, on the Gospel side, is made of polished oak and beautifully carved. It is supported by four clustered shafts with carved bases and capitals, the capital of the centre shaft supporting the whole surface of the floor. The plan is hexagonal with panels containing the figures of the four evangelists.
The canopy in two storeys, richly designed with trefoiled and crocketed pediments and pinnacles with finials, is terminated by a spire in open-work with a Cross as finial, the foot of which is sunk in a fleur de lis centre. The spire is supported by openwork mullions and four-leaved rose windows with flying buttresses or arch-buttants. The rail of the staircase is of an elegant open tracery with a moulded cornice decorated in the hollow with a three-leaved ornament.
The pews are of polished oak with carved ends and finials.
These are also of polished oak and of exquisite workmanship, with richly decorated doors and frontons and with slender shafts supporting the cornice with a crested parapet. The latter is surmounted by crocketed pediments and plain pinnacles with finials.
Stations of the Cross
The stations of the Cross are of a very delicate colouring, with wonderfully life-like and expressive figures. They are the work of L Chovet and I Beau, of Paris. Each station is framed in a beautifully carved design of polished oak with two decorated shafts hearing angels on the summit, a round and ornamented trefoil arch surmounted by a crocketed Pediment with a cross on the summit as a finial, turrets with crocketed pinnacles at the corners and a bas-rclief stiitli pendants.
The high altar
The beautiful Gothic altar which stands at the end of the chancel, at the rise of the first pillars of the great arches, of purest white marble, is the workmanship of the firm Poussielgue, of Paris. The four shafts supporting the altar table are of red marble with gilt brass bases and capitals. Between the shafts and against the wall of the altar there are three gilt brass quatrefoil roses. The middle one has a cross in the rose with centre ot green marble, while the other two have a foliated decoration. On both sides is a coat of arms engraved in a plate of gilt brass with enamel armorial bearings and an inscription in Gaelic.
The levels in hollow of the front edges of the altar bear an ornament of gilt brass buds.
The tabernacle of gilt brass has the form of a porch supported by circular shafts with moulded bases and carved capitals, surmounted by a flour de lis and enriched with crockets in vine leaves and bunches of grapes.
The tympanum bears the monogram of Christ with the two Greek letters A — O (Alpha — Omega) and the door has a statue of Christ the Divine Doctor, on a rectangular bracket.
The reredos, with a buttressed square tower in the centre, is also of while marble. The tower, with a three leaved ornament in the hollow of the cornice is surmounted by a quadrangular canopy of gilt brass with four decorated pediments supported by slender cylindrical shafts with moulded bases arid sculptured capitals, encircled midway with annulated mouldings, and standing on a brass basis.
The four frontons or pediments in trefoiled arches are adorned with crockets and finials flour de lis in open-work and at each corner is a small square turret with crocketed pinnacles. The four-roofed top of the canopy with ornamented crests is terminated by a cross fixed in a double truncated fleur de lis.
The reredos itself comprises three blank arches, each side of the tower, with small shafts of pink marble with gilt brass bases, capitals and trefoils. The centre of the arches bears a foliated decoration on grey marble. The arches arc separated by buttresses with turrets, crocketed pinnacles and finials. The crest of the parapet bears a five leaf and flower ornament. In the hollow is a three-leaved decoration similar to that of the tower. At each end stands a white marble octagonal turret with buttresses and pink marble shafts, and on the summit a candelabrum.
Separated from the altar are two white marble pedestals with standing angels bearing candelabra.
The stalls of the choristers, on either side of the altar, are of polished oak with blank trefoiled pediments, in the upper part, bearing crockets and finials, and divided into sections separated by truncated pinnacles with finials.
Those of the clergy, in the large arches, have a back of blank arched work in the lower division, whilst the upper one consists of a series of open pointed and trefoiled arches forming a row of five pediments with crockets and finials, and truncated pinnacles with finials between the sections. The seats work on hinges; when turned up each shows a moulded misericorde. They have on either part elbow rests in moulding supported half-way by a small cylindrical shaft, resting on the sides. These latter are decorated with a quatrefoil opening and mouldings. In front of the seats is a running desk or rail to the kneeling stools resting on a four-leaved parapet in open-work with a carved cornice carried along the top of the lower part which consists of five panels in open-work.
Each panel forms three arches composed of two cylindrical and two semi-cylindrical shafts with moulded bases and carved capitals, the latter shafts flanking the buttressed pillars of each section. The rail has a one arch panel at each end.
The communion rail
The communion rail is in a very artistic iron scroll work of long carved foliation and long stems with buds, while the kneeling stool running along the rail is of blue granite. The design is the same for the High Altar rail and those of the aisles altars.
The Blessed Virgin Chapel
The chapel of the Blessed Virgin forms a chancel to the south aisle. The altar, the tabernacle and the reredos, all of white marble, are ornamented with trefoiled arches on shafts.
On a sculptured bracket above the altar is a beautiful statue of Mary Immaculate, crushing the serpent's head and standing on the moon crescent.
St Joseph's Chapel
St Joseph's chapel is the counterpart of the Virgin chapel and forms a chancel to the north aisle. The altar is of white marble, ornamented with trefoiled arches on shafts. On a bracket above the altar is a fine statue of the Saint with the Holy Child Jesus standing by him. The rose windows in the gables of these latter chapels are a double-leaved quatrefoil in tracery. They are much like two large Crosses of the Malta Knights with a curved shape to the corners.
St Michael's Chapel
St Michael's altar stands at the southwest end of the transepts, in a recess. It is made of white marble, in Norman style, and is much too small for the place. Above the altar on a bracket stands a statue representing the archangel lighting against the dragon, with a sword in his right hand and a shield in his left.
St Theresa of the Child Jesus
Opposite the altar of St Michael is a beautiful statue, in Caen stone, by Bouet, of St Theresa, generally known as "The Little Flower", standing in the centre of a three section pedestal on a semi-octagonal shaft with moulded base and finely sculptured capital with a rose, the emblem of the saint.
The two sections, either side of the shaft, have a cornice in moulding with a rose garland running in the hollow. The saint is represented pressing the cross and roses on her heart with one hand and with the other dropping roses on the earth, an allusion to one of her last sayings.
The Holy Face
Against the south wall of the transepts, between the one-light windows, is a shield with the Holy Face, whilst underneath is a three section pedestal of polished oak with a moulded cornice projecting in the central section and suivoned by two shafts with mouldings at the base and carved capitals.
St Joan of Arc Chapel
St Joan of Arc chapel is at the northeast of the transepts above the altar in painted wood with marbled shafts. The statue of the saint, brandishing her sword point downwards, stands on a sculptured bracket projecting from the wall above the altar.
The Chapel of Our Lath of Lourdes
This chapel is at the north side of the tower. Above the altar, of white stone with gilt ornaments, is the statue of our Lady of Lourdes. Against the wall of the steeple on a circular shalt, is the statue representing our Lady as she appeared at Pontmain (Mayenne).
The Chapel of the Font
The font, placed at the south end of the steeple, in a recess, has the form of an octagonal vessel in simili-stone decorated with a uniform ornament of squares with buds. It is supported by a clustered pier formed of a central column and four shafts with bases and capitals. The shafts are of red simili-marble with a moulded base of white marble and a white stone plinth.
The vessel has the appearance of a gigantic capital to the supporting pier. The cover represents the Baptism of our Lord.
In the chapel of the Font, between the one-light windows, is the Memorial Altar erected to the War dead, with a beautiful group surmounting the reredos and representing a Pieta at the foot of the Cross with St John and St Mary Magdalen.
The reredos is of white simili-stone and represents crossed flags, swords and rifles with olive branches and oak leaves with acorns. The tabernacle is in the centre of an arch with a tympanum, on double black marble shafts with white moulded bases and sculptured capitals. In the centre of the tympanum is a Cross of the French Legion of Honour.
The table of the altar is supported by black marble shafts, forming a square-headed trefoil arch in the centre and pointed arches on either side of the latter. The centre arch bears an In Memoriam on a stab of white marble while the names of the dead of St Thomas’ parish are engraved on a white marble slab fixed on the wall at the east.
The English Union Jack, the French and the Jersey flags are hanging on their staffs on either side and in front of the altar, making a pleasing decoration to the chapel.
The stained glass of the windows comes from different establishments. Those of the two-light windows with small roses of the chancel were made by the firm Emmanuel Champigneulle of Bar-le-Duc, from designs supplied by Marechal, the well-known glass painter.
The glass of the windows and of the eight-section tracery roses of the transept has been supplied by the firm Champigneulle and Co of Paris; also the one-light windows of the south representing the Virgin Mother with the Holy Child Jesus, and St Michael, the patron saint of Jersey, and those of the north representing St Joseph and St Louis, King of France.
The glasswork of the windows of the nave is by Bastard, glass painter of Paris, while the double-light ones, between the buttresses in the aisles, with a slender shaft in the centre, and representing different saints are due to George Claudius Lavergne, of Paris.
The subjects are, on the north aisle: St John the Apostle and Evangelist and St Andrew, the Apostle; St Ignatius and St Louis of Gonzague; St Ives and St Lawrence; St Vincent of Paule and St Francis of Assisi; St Anne and our Lady of Pontmain. On the south: St Peter and St Paul; St Helier and St Martin; St Achilles and St Nereus, martyrs; St Thomas and St Matthew, the apostles; St Jane of Valois and St Donat.
Of the one-light windows in the chapel of the Baptismal Font and of our Lady of Lourdes two are in stained glass design and two with figures. That of the Font represents the Baptism of our Lord, whilst that of our Lady of Lourdes represents her apparition to Saint Bernadette Soubirous. They are by the firm Champigneulle of Bar-le-Duc.
Fr Michaux monument
In the centre of the first recess between the two buttresses at the back of the pulpit is the monumental slab of white marble, with two sculptured angels on pinnacles, supported by a plinth of blue granite, erected to the memory of Rev Fr Michaux, the founder of the church, and on either side, two smaller slabs give the names of the bishops and priests since 1792.
In the north aisle and facing the pulpit, the monumental slab of white marble gives the historic dates of the church.
There are two vestries, north and south, opening off St Joseph's and the Blessed Virgin's chapels by double doors in a square-headed trefoil arch. This is framed in an equilateral arch with an unsculptured tympanum. The windows are in the shape of square-headed trefoil arches.
The Holy Rood and the statues
The holy rood at the north entrance of the chancel against the right west pier of the transepts has been erected to commemorate the first Mission preached at St Thomas’. Opposite on a sculptured dais bracket, surmounted by a canopy, stands the statue of the patron saint, St Thomas, the apostle.
By the south-west pier of Our Lady's chapel, the Guardian Angel is represented with a child. Opposite, by the north-west pier of St Joseph's chapel is the statue of St Louis of Gonzague, the patron saint of Catholic Youth, while in St Joan of Arc Chapel is the statue of St Benedict.
Two other statues in the north and south recesses between the last buttresses are respectively those of St Anne with the Blessed Virgin as a child, and of St Anthony of Padua.
The Exterior of the Building
Of the exterior of the church built of blue Brittany granite, are the arrises, cornices, tracery, cappings, the top of the gables, the monumental fleurs de lis, the cross with pierced spandrels surmounting the gable of the apsis, the pinnacles and crosses of the north, south and east gables, the gargoyles as well as all the steeple. The rest is in reidish granite from the La Moye quarries, the colour contrasting with that of Brittany granite.
The doors are of polished oak with a rich iron scroll work at the hinges.
There are five porches to the church, one large under the steeple, with a deep arch on slender shafts, a tympanum representing the Apparition of our Lord, after His resurrection, to St Thomas, the apostle, and bearing the inscription: Dominus meus et Deus meus, "My Lord and my God". At the summit of the crocketed pediment is a cross. The small porches, two at the north and two at the south are formed of a small arch with slender shafts, and the summit of their pediments bears a fleur de lis as finial. The railing of the steps are in iron scroll work.
Priests in charge
The Catholic Church, re-established in Jersey in 1793, was under the double direction of Bishop de Cheylus of Bayeux, and of Bishop de Mintier of St Brieuc. They were helped in their sacred ministry by Rev Mathieu de Gruchy and a certain number of other priests who administered the sacraments in private oratories.
Priests in charge of French-speaking Catholics from 1803:
- J Philibert, 1803 director of St Louis Oratory
- F Le Guedois, 1809 director of St Louis Oratory
- J Morlais, 1837 director of St Louis Oratory; 1842, Rector of St Thomas and Dean
- J Volkerick, 1860 Rector of St Thomas
- M Morin, 1878 Rector of St Thomas
- V Bourdc, 1880 Rector of St Thomas
- V Fick 1885 Rector of St Thomas
- C Le Vacon, OMI 1895 Rector of St Thomas
- L Legrand, OMI 1899 Rector of St Thomas
- L Guillient, OMI 1911 Rector of St Thomas
- A Mao, OMI 1920 Rector of St Thomas
- T Mare, OMI 1933 Rector of St Thomas
- P Jon, OMI 1946 Rector of St Thomas
- H Verkin, OMI 1955 Rector of St Thomas
- J Simon, OMI 1961 Rector of St Thomas