St Peter 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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Exposed to tbe violence of the winds, and situated on an arid site, St Peter's Church was designated in the old maps as St Pierre du Desert.

St Peter's Parish Church

Tallest spire

It was suggested at one time that its lofty spire, or a portion of it, should be painted white, as a landmark, but that piece of vandalism was happily nipped in the bud, whilst its object is now equally well performed by the remains of an old windmill, near St Ouen's Church, recently acquired by the States.

The patron of this cburch was the abbot of St Sauveur-le-Vicomte, who received half the tytbes. He also held the patronage of the Priory of St Peter, and possessed land, the rights to which were confirmed by Henry II of England. The parish is of considerable extent, stretching northwards as far as St Mary's Arsenal, southwards to the village of Beaumont, and westward to the shores of St Ouen's Bay.

The church today consists of a chancel and two aisles. Over the cross is a square tower with tapering quadrilateral stone spire, the highest in the Island, rising 124 feet from the ground.

Simple beginnings

Originally it was simply a chapel, represented by the present chancel, with a north and south door, the latter still being visible. In the east end was the altar, over which small openings in the gable admitted light. In the south wall voussoirs may be noticed, belonging to a window of early date.

It was remarked in the introduction to these papers that a very general opinion obtained amongst archaeologists that the original roofs of our Jersey churches, like those on the continent, were constructed of wood. It is only right to state, however, that the late Colonel Le Cornu, from whose investigations in connection with St Peter's Church, the writer has obtained much valuable information, held an opposite view, averring that the "arches of the Nave were coustructed at the same time as the original walls".

Their style, however, would hardly warrant this conclusion. The buttresses are for the most part flat and narrow, of Norman type, whilst the walls which support the roof attain a thickness of from three to four feet.

Windows on the south side were enlarged, probably when the south chapel was erected, and the large east window inserted,

It seems not unlikely that in 1167, the date erroneously mentioned in the guide books as that of consecration, an important enlargement was carried out, as regards the original chapel, which included that portion of the church extending at the present time from the altar to the pulpit.

The church in 1858

Ancient foundations

Under the arches carrying the tower, ancient foundations of walls have been unearthed, evidently a prolongation of these of the ancient choir, (or chapel). Hence the tower and spire now stand on the walls of the primitive chapel. That this is so becomes more evident from the fact that the walls of the nave and transepts abut against those of the tower on three sides, whilst on the fourth the masonry of its pillars has been dovetailed into the old walls of the choir. The arches are pointed and the mortar contains a quantity of sea shells.

At first the tower was covered en batiere, like many of the churches in Normandy, access being gained by a staircase from the outside, placed in the angle formed by the north transept and chancel. The nave, transepts and lower part of the tower belong to the same date, and were built quite independently of the rest. The spire was not added until towards the end of the 15th century. It was struck by lightning in 1843 and rebuilt in 1848.

Coming to the west front, we find it in almost its primitive state, with two small lancets as when first constructed, and a circular window dating from 1856. The south transept was originally similar to the north, but the latter has been practically reconstructed, owing to the many so-called restorations it has undergone.

At the end of the12th century St Peter's was already an important building, constituting a complete Latin Cross, with chancel, nave and transepts, and a tower, "en batiere" at the intersection. We now arrive at the second enlargement of the church. This consisted in the addition of two aisles, one to the north of the chancel and the other to the north of a portion of the nave.

In the east gable, the original early pointed window may be seen, considerably splayed both inside and out, with jambs of Chausey granite, Two recesses in the north wall were probably intended for tombs.

Massive buttresses

The buttresses of this aisle, or chapel, are more massive than those of the chancel, and its roof higher and better built. The second aisle, mentioned as having been added to the north of tho nave, was demolished in 1886, when a complete and final restoration of the church was undertaken, and a new aisle extending the whole length of the nave substituted.

The date of the above portions of the church is probably 14th century. The two collaterals were no doubt identical in general form and used for special services, an altar being placed in each. In the one adjoining the nave a corbel still exists, intended for the image of some saint, and to the right of the eastern arch a recess in the wall was found where the sacred vessels were kept.

Emplacements for a gallery, or more likely a rood-screen, exist at the west end of the chancel, the original chapel. Cavities, now filled with red granite to mark the spots, appear in the pillars which support the tower arches, where the beams supporting this gallery rested. Signs of frescoes have been found at different times, but so defaced, owing to want of care by the workmen, that they were valueless,

The third great enlargement was probably undertaken during the latter half of the 15th century, or the beginning of the 16th century, It consisted of the addition of the huge douthern chapel, or aisle, which extends the whole length of the nave, and exceeds it both in width and elevation.

Curious tablet

A few feet above the ground, a grey granite from French quarries takes the place of the Island stone. In a buttress to the west of this chapel is a curious tablet in Mont Mado granite, representing an ornamental cross, croix croisetée, a hammer, pair of pincers and two other objects resembling horse shoes.

It is supposed that this stone may have been inserted in memory of a farmer named Le Brun, a former benefactor of the church, who is said to have founded the south chapel. It was removed from its original position when the buttress was undergoing repairs,

On another stone which serves as a step to the south door, a trefoil (supposed by some to be an aureole) is carved, the interior of the leaf forming a cross. Yet another stone may be found on one of the southern buttresses engraved with a long cross trifid, (ie with smaller crosses on the extremities) supposed to represent the Trinity.

It may here be remarked that formerly the floors of many churches were paved with memorial stones, which invariably bore the sign of the cross, "trifide" or simple, and were usually decorated with some emblem indicating the rank of the deceased. The characters in which the inscriptions were written varied from time to time and serve roughly as a guide to their date. From about 1000 AD to 1350 Lombardic letters were used, from 1350-1530 those known as Black-Ietter.

About this time another imperfect Lombard letter was introduced. which gave way ultimately to the Roman character. From 1100 AD to 1360 the inscriptions were in Latin, which then was replaced by Norman French, till about the beginning of the 15th century, when Latin again came into general use.

Gothic windows

Returning from this digression, the windows may now be considered. They are Gothic, or Flamboyant, in style, and contain fairly good modern glaass. That in the chancel consists of three lights, and that of the south transept two.

Examining the windows on the south side, an arrangement is found which exists in several of our churches, viz a large window with mullions at the east end and two smaller ones. The larger window is moulded and surmounted by a finial, the two smaller ones were not mullioned originally. All the windows have dripstones. The west entrance is formed by a depressed arch, possibly not the original one, its gable terminating in a grey stone cross.

The roof is very massive. It rests on eight heavy cylindrical columns, with octagonal capitals, supporting graceful pointed arches. The fine arch leading to the chapel in the south transept is of the same period. and it is likely that at this time the spire was added to the primitive tower.

The principal door of the nave is low, with flat lintel and tympanum. Over it, as before mentioned, is a modern circular window with two ancient lancets. It is kept in position by the jambs which fit into holes in the lintel. Originally the church was not paved. Beneath a layer of red earth, a hard black floor was found. A second altar stood in the southern aisle, and a piscina, (which still remains) a third altar in the south aisle and probably yet another in the north collateral of the choir.

At the time of the Reformation, like most other churches, St Peter's, was despoiled of its altars, galleries and anything savouring of popery. The pulpit became the fountain of religious instruction and prayer, to which aught else was sacrificed, a table in the midst of the congregtion representing the altar.

This table, (which may still be seen in the vestry) was brought out when required for the celebration of the Communion. In the year 1829 it was placed in the north transept, and in 1886 removcd to the east end of the chancel.


Seats at that time were placed haphazard, some being of plain wood, and some painted, producing a very extraordinary appearance. It was not till some time later that they were arranged symmetrically, when altars and fonts were also placed in the most convenient situations for use.

By an act of the parish assembly dated 30 April 1829, amongst many other alterations and improvements, it was resolved "that the stone pillar existing betwccn the chapel on the north-west and the middle of the church shall be removed, and the two arches rebuilt solidly in one, and that the space between the NW door and the consistory (vestry) should be used for an altar for the celebration of the Eucharist; also that those portions of the church which are not paved shall be paved at the expense of the Tresor”.

In 1835 a font was purchased. In 1841 an organ was presented, two windows were placed in the north aisle, and it was decided to demolish the wall which separated the church from the portion appropriated to the parish artillery, at the west end.

In conclusion, it is interesting to note that whilst engaged in digging the foundations of the south aisle, shells and other remains were found, similar to those in the hougues and cromlechs of the Island, a fact which renders it possible that St Peter's Church was erected on a site where Pagan rites had previously held sway.

The church plate

Church plate

St Peter's church plate is very fine. As in other Jersey churches it is of Post-Reformation date. A small bowl depicted in the centre of the picture was lost for many years. It was ultimately recovered, having fallen into the hands of a local dealer, and purchased by the parishioners in 1909.

An inscription states that it is the same as mentioned in the inventory of 1728. It was probably presented by a de Carteret in 1611. The remainder includes two flagons, the gift of Francois Ballaine 1833, a baptismal font 1775, and two patens in memory of Philippe Filleul, a former rector. The beautiful Reredos, representing the Last Supper sculptured in alabaster, and presented by the late Rev P A Le Fevre, is a worthy addition to St Peter's Church, and merit attention.

Monnmental tablets are somewhat scarce, but the names of Pipon, Dumaresq, Le Brocq and Le Bas occur; also a fine marble monument to Elie de Carteret dating 1639, with Latin inscription, of which the following is a translation:

Beneath this slab there lie the mortal remains of the most beloved consorts, Elias de Carteret Esquire, of the family or St Ouen in this Island, second son, & Elizabeth Dumaresq, the former of whom committed his soul to Christ on the 26th of April 1640; the latter on the 21st of January 1639."
One faith united them in life, one religion
One love. Husband and wife were one
One urn joins together two bodies, not for long separated by fate, and one heaven possesses their spirits
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