The origin of the 12 parishes

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The origin of the 12 parishes

This article by J N L Myres was first published in the 1978 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

To an observer from England the 12 ancient parishes and churches of Jersey present an unexpectedly regular appearance. They form a group with specialised and closely similar features which it would be difficult to parallel in any contiguous group of 12 comparable parishes in the countryside of medieval England.

Named after saints

For one thing, all, with one easily explicable exception, are named after the saint to which the church is dedicated, rather than by reference to topographical features or to the social structure of the communities which they served. The parishes thus lack the wide variety of ancient placename elements which give any comparable group of English villages the sense of having sprung naturally out of various aspects of a man's relationship with his environment and his neighbours.

Linked with this difference is the fact that in Jersey the parishes are hardly ever co-terminous with the fiefs; they seem to belong to a different level in the stratification of society, and only exceptionally, and partially, produce, as at St Ouen or Trinity, something visually comparable to the combination of parish church, manor house and nucleated village which is such a familiar feature in almost every part of the English countryside.

Yet another difference from the English pattern lies in the basic uniformity of plan and structural development which the churches themselves exhibit. In the absence of a scholarly architectural analysis of each building, such as is now provided for many parts of England by the county volumes of the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, it would be unwise for an amateur to say too much on this subject.

In the past a great deal of architectural nonsense has been written about the fabrics of the churches, and nothing is to be gained by adding to this mountain of unreliable guesswork. But certain common features of plan and apparent evolution are obvious from the most superficial examination and, in spite of many detailed variations in the way they appear in the different buildings, these features are so dominant as to make the twelve churches much more closely related architecturally to one another than any similar group of neighbouring village churches on the mainland.

Thus, whether or not the existing structures may in some cases incorporate earlier chapels, as has been frequently asserted, they are all based on, and appear to have evolved from, a similar aisleless cruciform pattern in which chancel, nave and transepts met in a crossing providing the base on which a central tower could rest. It is thus remarkable that there is no western tower anywhere among them, although such a feature is exceedingly common, in one form or another, among village churches elsewhere. Moreover, when in the later medieval centuries the need was felt for expansion, it did not take the usual form of adding lower lateral aisles to the naves and chancels, and throwing up the earlier walls to provide better clerestory lighting for the central area.

No clerestories

Instead the existing naves and/or chancels were duplicated with parallel structures of similar size north or south of them, which often absorbed or made redundant the original transepts and resulted in a more or less rectangular instead of a cruciform plan. Clerestories of any date or type are thus as conspicuous by their absence in the Jersey churches as are western towers. Such regularity of structural form and development suggests strongly that they were all planned at much the same time in accordance with a common design, and were expanded to meet similar needs arising more or less simultaneously all over the island.

A comparable uniformity can be observed in the legal status of the churches. Between 1251 and 1279 a complete record of their patronage and financial resources was made on the instructions of Jean d'Essey, Bishop of Coutances, in whose diocese the island lay. At that time eleven of the twelve churches were in the gift of six Norman monasteries, one of which held five of them with subsidiary rights in all the others, another held two, and the remainder one each.

Two Norman nunneries also had subsidiary rights in eight of the churches, and there were one or two other ecclesiastical beneficiaries, such as the Bishop of Avranches, who drew smaller sums from some of the parishes. The twelfth church belonged to Coutances itself, the patronage being in the hands of the Archdeacon of the Vire, and most of its tithes were shared between him and the Bishop. No layman appears to have held any rights in any of the churches, and there is no sign at this date that any of them had ever been what the Germans term Eigenkirchen, churches established and owned by lay seigneurs on their own fiefs.

Such an exclusively ecclesiastical Norman set-up is unusual. In England after the Norman Conquest lay patronage persisted everywhere, although most of the churches previously held by Anglo-Saxon notables passed with their other possessions into the hands of new Norman lords, some of whom were clerics. The quite different situation in Jersey raises the question whether the parochial organisation there owes its apparently artificial features to a deliberate act of creation, one moreover in which the Church, rather than the lay power, took the main initiative and from which it reaped all but exclusive benefits. Is it possible to find convincing confirmation that this is what occurred and, if so, is it possible to say when it took place and who was responsible for it?

Celtic missionaries

Any attempt to answer these questions can only be made against a background of what is known of the history of Christianity in the islands. Nothing can be said with safety of their religious state under the Roman Empire, but there are enough traces to show that they were affected by Celtic missionary enterprise in the post-Roman centuries, and also that there were links at that time or soon after with the church in Frankish Gaul. The most important evidence for these developments comes from the dedications of the churches themselves, which have remained unchanged from at least the eleventh century: some may well have been very old then.

Thus St Helier and St Brelade both preserve memories of obscure Celtic saints, the latter so obscure that the association of this church (and one other in Brittany) with his name is almost the only thing that is known about him. Of St Helier there is a late and wholly unreliable life, but the traditional site of his hermitage on the islet seawards from Elizabeth Castle can be paralleled elsewhere at many places on the rocky coasts and islands of the Celtic world in the Age of the Saints; whatever he may have done, there was just enough to preserve the memory of a holy man's existence.

St Ouen provides a link with a less shadowy figure of the seventh century, for he is apparently to be identified with Adoenus, the contemporary of King Dagobert and his minister Eligius (St Eloi), who was a friend of the latter and Bishop of Rouen in the first half of the seventh century. It is possible, perhaps probable, that the dedication of the two adjacent St Martin churches, St Martin le Vieux and Grouville, may give a further early link with the church of Frankish Gau1; but the enduring fame of St Martin, which began in his own lifetime (he died in 397), with the popularity of his best-selling biography by Sulpicius Severus, and was boosted by the repute of his abbey of Marmoutiers at Tours, makes it impossible to date dedications to him with any confidence.

Ewen has suggested that the three St Martin parishes in Jersey and Guernsey, which are all on the east side of the islands facing the Cotentin, recall early missionary activities of St Martin's abbey of Marmoutiers, conducted probably through its dependent priory at Héauville on the French coast near Diélette, which later benefited from the substantial grants in Guernsey made to Marmoutiers in 1048 by Duke William.

Roman pillar

One would like to think that the two dedications to specifically Roman saints, Clement and Lawrence, also belong to this early period, when both were popular. It is certainly significant that the earliest Christian object from the islands, the pillar stone which began as a decorative feature in a Roman building, and subsequently acquired both a sixth century inscription and a panel of Scandinavian interlace, was found under the nave of St Lawrence's church: whatever meaning can be read into the inscription it is reasonable to infer that the site had Christian associations far back in the pre-Norman period.

One further incident from this age which serves to link Jersey with the administration of Charlemagne in a specifically Christian context has recently been studied by Charles Stevens. This is recorded in a tenth century manuscript of the Miracles of St Wandrille, and concerns a voyage made to the island by St Gervold, Abbot of Fontenelle, in the first decade of the ninth century to carry out some business on the Emperor's instructions. The point of the story as it was told lies in the miraculous preservation of Gervold and his party from destruction by a sudden storm on their return journey, which was attributed to the intervention of St Wandrille, whose relics Gervold was carrying.

But its interest for us lies in the fact that such a mission from the Imperial Court to Jersey was carried out at this time by a distinguished abbot highly placed in Charlemagne's service. It was through contacts such as this that stories of figures like St Ouen and St Martin from Gaul, or St Clement and St Lawrence from Rome, familiar enough to Frankish churchmen, could have found their way to Jersey.

It may be worth noting at this point a few names that one might expect to find remembered in the hagiology of this phase, but which do not seem to have left any lasting impression in Jersey. The more important Breton saints such as Samson of Dol or Paul Aurelian are absent from our parochical nomenclature, though Samson of course made a mark in Guernsey.

The tradition that the islands belonged to the diocese of Dol before they were transferred to Coutances makes this absence of Breton saints the more remarkable. I do not know the authority for this tradition but, while it may be doubted whether anything resembling a later diocesan administration cou1d have been based on Dol in these early times, some personal links between the islands and the Breton churches would have been natural, if not inevitable, before the seaways became infested by Viking longships.

Few Celtic names

On the other hand, as de Gruchy has pointed out, Celtic placenames are very few in the islands, and scarcely any traces of the use of Breton or any other Celtic language are on record. One might expect perhaps to meet Germanus of Auxerre here on the same footing as St Martin, for he too had a great vogue in Frankish Gaul based partly on the fifth century Vita by his priest Constantius, and partly on his fame as a half-legendary figure in the hagiology of the Celtic church in Wales.

Less local saints whose cults are commonly associated in early times with rocky coasts and islands in the western seas, such as St Michael and St Catherine, are also conspicuous by their absence from the parochial dedications of Jersey.

The paucity and patchiness of all this evidence, both positive and negative, for the early Christian centuries in Jersey merely serves to emphasise the extent and depth of the devastation that the heathen Norsemen wrought in the ninth and tenth centuries. It is not always appreciated how much more serious and long-lasting this destruction was in the western than in the eastern parts of what became Normandy.

For more than half a century after the followers of Rollo were settling down as Christian converts in the lands around the lower Seine, following the arrangements made with the Frankish kings by the so-called Treaty of St Clair-sur-Epte in 911, and subsequent deals, fresh hordes of pagan Norsemen were still pouring into the Cotentin and the islands from the Irish Sea and demolishing most of what had survived there from the Christian culture of Roman and Frankish Gaul.

So complete was the chaos in the Cherbourg peninsula that for more than 70 years in the tenth century five successive Bishops of Coutances were unable to reside in their diocese and had withdrawn to Rouen, where a church had been handed over for their use as a sort of pro-cathedral for a diocese now wholly in partibus infidelium.

Return to Coutances

An unsuccessful effort was made to return to Coutances at the instigation of Duke Richard I towards the end of the tenth century, but it was not until the second quarter of the eleventh that, after a temporary sojourn on the frontier of the diocese at St Lo on the Vire, the Bishop and clergy were able to re-establish themselves in Coutances in the 1030s.

There they set about the rebuilding of their cathedral, the reorganisation of its capitular structure and the reintroduction of Christianity into the devastated countryside by the building and rebuilding of churches, and the founding and refounding of monasteries, assisted in all these activities by the active patronage of the Dukes and their greater barons.

Round about 1100, or very soon thereafter, this process was briefly described in the De Statu Constantiensis Ecclesiael, a fascinating little pamphlet whose author attributes most of the credit to Geoffrey de Montbrai, Bishop of Coutances from 1049 to 1096, for whom he had a great personal devotion, and whose last days he describes in terms which are those of an eye-witness.

Geoffrey was a major figure in the politics of Norman expansion and played a leading role in the conquest of England, from which he derived great wealth for his reorganised diocese. He is also on record in the De Statu as the recipient of a grant from the Conqueror which covered quidquid habet ecclesia Constantiensis in insults videlicet Gersei, Granasei, Serk et Alreno (whatever the church of Coutances now holds in the islands of Jersey, Guernsey, Sark and Alderney).

Bringing Christianity to the islands

No doubt Geoffrey exploited the implications of this grant to the full for the financial benefit of Coutances, but the process of bringing organised Christianity to the islands, and forming or reforming what became its familiar parochial pattern as a source of revenue, had begun before he was made bishop in 1049. There is no reason to suppose that this pattern can have existed in anything like its later form before the islands were engulfed in the heathen tides that swept over them in the ninth and tenth centuries.

Particular interest thus attaches to the terms in which elements of that pattern are first mentioned in documents of this time, for in all likelihood they come from its earliest formative stage.

The first record of this kind is in a charter of 1042 in which William, as dux Normannorum, adds to the possessions of the Abbey of Cerisy, founded by his father Robert ten years earlier in loco qui dicitur Cerisiacus, lands and rights in the Cotentin and in Jersey, which include duas ecclesias liberas scilicet ecclesiam Sancte Marie arsi monasterii et Sancti Martini veteris cum terris suis et tertium partem decime de annona.

The wording is of great interest for three reasons: first, the churches were "free", not subject, that is, to any seigneurial jurisdiction - secondly, they had lands and revenue derived from tithes of wheat, implying parochial status of some kind; thirdly, one, St Mary, was the successor to a burnt monastery, and the other, St Martin, was already "old", presumably to distinguish it from a younger St Martin church, which can only have been Grouville.

So here, several years before Geoffrey de Montbrai became Bishop of Coutances in 1049, are two parish churches, both on "old" Christian sites, and the implication that another, St Martin at Grouville, was also already in existence.

Montivilliers nunnery

Another religious house in Normandy, the nunnery of Montivilliers, whose possessions had been confirmed by a charter of Duke Robert in 1035, was given by William as Comes Normannorum between 1053 and 1066 half the revenues of eight churches Giriacensis insulae, videlicet .. S. Clementis, sanctique Martini Vetuli, et alterius ecclesiae sancti Martini, et sancti Heieri, et sancti Petri, et saneti Broladrii, et sancti Audoeni, sanctaeque ... Mariae.

This charter is known only from a vidimus of Philip the Fair of 1305, and may not have been accurately copied, for it contains verbal errors (eg vetuli for veteris), and a confusion over the size of the intended benefaction, for later on Montivilliers never had half of these churches, but only smaller and varying proportions of their tithes.

But there is evidence that the Conqueror gave similar rights in these churches, doubtless at the same time, to his own foundation of the Abbaye aux Dames (Holy Trinity) at Caen, so their existence as parts of the parochial system before 1066 need not be doubted. In the case of St Martin and St Mary the Abbesses of Caen and Montivilliers seem to have obtained eventually a quarter of the tithes each.

The Abbesses' share of tithes in the other six churches varied, and in no case included the advowson. But the advowsons of three of these, St Peter, St Clement and St Helier, were before 1090 in the hands of the Abbey of St Sauveur-le-Vicomte in the Cotentin, a house founded by Nigel or Neel Vice-comes, which eventually came to have some rights in all Jersey's churches.

The date and circumstances of its acquisition of these three churches are not certainly known, but de Gruchy has plausibly suggested that since their possession was confirmed to the abbey in 1160 by Raoul de la Haye, a powerful Norman baron, they were probably granted to it by an earlier member of that family.

Were the churches free?

This raises an interesting point. It would suggest that some of the Jersey churches were founded or refounded on fiefs in the island which had been conferred on Norman dependents of the Duke in the first phase of its resettlement during the eleventh century. This would mean that they were not "free churches" as St Mary and St Martin were in 1042, but owed their origin or their re-establishment to seigneurs of intermediate status. There is some other evidence that this was so.

Among the 27 Norman families known to have been granted fiefs in Jersey between 1020 and 1087 there are at least five whose members made over the advowsons of Jersey parish churches to continental monasteries in the century before about 1160. As already noted the de la Haye or de la Hague family were probably in a position to give St Peter, St Clement and St Helier to the Abbey of St Sauveur-le-Vicomte before 1090; St Brelade was given to the same house by Roger de Sottevast before 1136; Grouville was given to the Abbey of Lessay by Godefroi du Buisson in 1149; St John to St Sauveur-le-Vicomte by Guillaume de Vauville about 1153; and St Ouen to Mont St Michel by the de Carterets some time after 1125.

It would thus appear that before 1150 the parochial pattern in Jersey was much less regular and much less uniformly ecclesiastical than it had become by 1251 when Bishop Jean d'Essey had his survey made. While most if not all of the churches were certainly in existence by 1150, at least seven had been in private hands before being granted by their lords to continental monasteries. This process, moreover, was continuing after 1150 in what were perhaps still "free churches".

King John

Thus it would seem that Henry II gave the advowson and part of the tithe of Trinity to the Abbey of St Helier, which had itself been founded about 1155 by Guillaume FitzHamon, member of another of the earliest group of Norman families in Jersey; and John, as Count of Mortain in 1198, shortly before he became King, gave St Lawrence to the Abbey of Blanchelande.

The motives which led lay lords to hand over so readily the patronage of their Jersey churches to continental monasteries in the twelfth century are somewhat obscure. It is true that this was a great age of monastic enthusiasm, when lay patronage of the Eigenkirche type was regarded as an abuse by reforming churchmen. The wholesale abandonment of their advowsons by lay seigneurs in Jersey may mean only that their owners now felt some embarrassment at their possession and might even gain by their loss.

The circumstances in which they first came to hold the churches are unfortunately unknown but it does not look as if they had ever been regarded as integral parts of the fiefs granted to their families in the first period of Norman settlement.

It would seem therefore that the churches were probably not Eigenkirchen of lay foundation in the normal sense, but were from the start elements of an artificially created system of ecclesiastical origin, some of which had become loosely absorbed by lay seigneurs, as feudal rights and claims everywhere developed during the eleventh century.

This is just another aspect of the point noted at the beginning of this study, that fiefs and parishes in Jersey hardly ever coincide, and seem to belong to different levels in the stratification of society.

Traditional pattern

How then did the parishes and their churches come to form the traditional pattern, whose outlines were established well before the later years of the eleventh century? These, as has already been seen, were years in which the diocese of Coutances under Bishop Geoffrey de Montbrai and his immediate predecessors was reorganised and restructured as a framework in which the Christian life at parochial, monastic and capitular level could be restored after the heathen time.

A good deal is known about the methods which had been adopted for this purpose in the other Norman dioceses which had been able to recover much earlier from the bad days. In addition to the founding and refounding of monasteries to whose endowment the Dukes and their barons made substantial grants of lands and rights, much use was made of archdeacons in reordering the parish system in rural areas. In the archdiocese of Rouen, for example, there were six archdeacons each charged with the administration of a pagus, one of the districts used by the Carolingian emperors from Charlemagne onwards, and perhaps in some cases inherited by them from tribal subdivisions of Roman Gaul.

In later medieval times the diocese of Coutances had four archdeaconries, one with the title of "la Chretiente", responsible for the heart of the diocese around the cathedral city, and for the courts Christian on which the episcopal and capitular jurisdiction centred; one for the Cotentin including Cherbourg, one for the Bauptois and one for the Val de Vire, which formed the frontier with Bayeux and included St Lo.

But in the twelfth century one had the title of archidiaconus de insulis. An official so described witnesses a charter of c1140 in which Bishop Algar of Coutances confirms the properties of the Abbey of St Sauveur-le-Vicomte. The witnesses to the charter seem to give a brief and fascinating glimpse of the Bishop's familia at work; they consist of Osbern the Cantor (at Coutances the Cantor was the official known in other chapters as the Dean), Roger, Gislebert and Ralf archdeacons, Richard archdeacon of the Isles, Nicholas a canon, and two characters both named William, only distinguishable, apparently, by the fact that one was filius archidiaconi and the other filius decani.

In view of the very substantial endowments which the Abbey of St Sauveur held in Jersey, it is not surprising that the only archdeacon whose function is specified on this occasion should be the one de insulis.

Bishop's charter

A little later, between 1158 and 1178, a charter of the next Bishop, Richard, dealing with the priory of Perreville in St Clement, is specifically stated to have passed in capitulo nostro, and is witnessed by Aluared the Cantor, Peter the chaplain, and Richard William and Robert archidiaconis nostris. It is tempting to guess that this archdeacon Richard may be the same Richard, archdeacon of the Isles, who had witnessed the previous charter.

Here then is evidence for at least one archdeacon of Coutances being involved in parochial affairs in Jersey in the middle of the twelfth century. That more than one archdeacon was so involved can be seen by examining the situation in St Saviour's parish. It was from the earliest times held by the diocesan authorities of Coutances itself, originally perhaps by the Bishop, whose possession of it was confirmed in 1145 by a Bu1l of Pope Eugenius III.

But by 1251 the Archdeacon of the Vire held the advowson, and appointed a Vicar, who had 24 vergees, to serve the church, but he had to pay the archdeacon li 20 tournois for the privilege. The Bishop had half the tithes, the archdeacon a third, and St Sauveur-le-Vicomte a sixth, so there was no balance for the Vicar from that source. Later on, in 1309, we are told that St Saviour is held de jure matricis ecclesie Constantiensis et tenetur per archidiaconos.

Archdeacons' base

It would seem highly probable therefore that St Saviour's parish was treated from the start as the main base of operations for the archdeacons in reorganising the parochial system of the island. The dedication of the church suggests strongly that it was an artificial creation at the very beginning of this process.

St Saviour, though generally uncommon as a medieval dedication, was very familiar at this time to the Bishops of Coutances. It was in fact that of the church in Rouen which they had used when in exile in the heathen time. It was thus natural for them to perpetuate the association in the dedication of their personal church in Jersey, whose anomalous financial arrangements, with a rent-paying Vicar and no resident Rector, gave it the air of a sort of home farm, kept in hand for their private exploitation.

How did the Coutances archdeacons set about the task of drafting the lines of a regular parochial pattern out of the bits and pieces of Christian tradition, ruined buildings and memories of local saints, the vraik left behind by the pagan Norsemen? And how much co-operation and assistance did they seek and obtain in their task from the new Norman familes of the Cotentin, the Bessin and elsewhere, whom the Dukes were at the same time enfeoffing with lands in the island?

No details of these proceedings have survived, but one can well imagine how the collection of local information and personal surveys could have pointed to the site of a burnt monastery, an "arsmoustier", for one at St Mary's; of an old building associated with St Martin for a second; and another, apparently later, with the same tradition at Grouville.

St Lawrence ruin?

There may have been a ruin of Roman origin at St Lawrence still showing a pillar which had since done duty twice over as a tombstone. There were the traditions of St Helier's hermitage on the Islet, and of something similar on the shore in St Brelade's Bay; while for some reason a seventh century Frankish bishop was still remembered at St Ouen, and could be given parochial status in co-operation with the de Carterets.

Discussions with the de la Haye family, who had been granted property in what became St Peter, might have secured their co-operation in setting up a church on waste land, later known as St Peter de Deserto, in return for its patronage; and some similar deal with the de Vauvilles could have led to the establishment of St John "of the Oaks" (de Quercubus) in a forested stretch on or near their land as a centre for the later parish of that name.

It will be noticed that both Peter and John are dedications of universal popularity, with no known local roots of significance in either place. By means such as these the pattern of twelve parishes, some "free", others seigneurial, and one, St Saviour, kept in hand for the Bishop and his archdeacons, could have been brought into being before the middle of the eleventh century.

If it had little formal relationship to the pattern of the fiefs, it disregarded even more strikingly such geographical factors as the distribution of harbours likely to attract population as communications by sea with the mainland developed. Thus neither Gorey nor St Aubin were parish centres, the former perhaps because it lay midway between the two St Martins. That St Aubin should have no church is the more remarkable since it seems to have had a well established local saint; perhaps he had a hermitage on the islet now occupied by St Aubin's Fort.

But if, as seems certain, the whole pattern of parishes was laid out well before the middle of the eleventh century, it may not yet have been clear that Gorey and St Aubin were likely to emerge as principal transit points for journeys to the continent in the medieval centuries.

Casual relationship

It is perhaps surprising that the somewhat casual relationship between the fiefs, the parish churches, and the mainland monasteries, which soon came to monopolise their advowsons, should apparently have led to so little friction in an age increasingly addicted to the assertion and denial of claims to lands, privileges, jurisdictions and other sources of emolument. There were certainly some near-misses, of which perhaps the story of the lands of Peter the Monk is the most relevant to this subject.

At some date before 1025 one Peter was possessed of a property later known as Petrivilla or Perreville situated in the immediate proximity of St Clement's church. At some unspecified date, but still apparently quite early in our period, he was moved to enter religion as a monk of Mont St Michel and, as was usual at that time, he conveyed his estate to the abbey as a gift on entering the community.

St Clement's church, whatever its origin may have been, had in all likelihood been parochialised by arrangement with the de la Haye family, who had later made over its advowson along with those of St Peter and St Helier to the abbey of St Sauveur-le-Vicomte at some date before 1090. The estate of Petrivilla seemed to the abbot of Mont St Michel a suitable spot to establish a small priory or oratorium manned by a prior and a few monks who would be principally occupied in collecting the rents and dues from other properties belonging to the abbey in the island. This decision however was embarrassing to the patrons and incumbent of St Clement, who had reason to fear encroachment on their parochial rights from the establishment of this little priory right up against their church.

Bishop Richard of Coutances

Bishop Richard of Coutances, to whom the matter was referred between 1154 and 1178, appears to have settled it amicably in the charter already referred to. He granted permission to the Abbot of Mont St Michel facere oratorium sibi et monachis suis ... in villa sua de Perreville, on the strict understanding that all the parochial rights of the church of St Clement were kept intact and separate from "the whole party of monks (familia) living there".

"For", adds the Bishop, "it has been proved in my presence that that church of St Clement has from of old belonged rightly to the Abbey of St Sauveur in all its completeness, and has been unjustly conscripted into the private jurisdiction of the monks of St Michael".

The interest of this award, made in a formal chapter at Coutances, lies, from our point of view, in the fact that it was witnessed by no less than three of the Coutances archdeacons, one of whom was doubtless de insulis, while another may have been the archdeacon of the Val de Vire, who would have been interested as patron and beneficiary of the adjacent parish of St Saviour.

Medieval archdeacons were never popular figures. They had to make a living out of fees for faculties of all kinds, for proving wills in their courts, and for other jurisdictional facilities which brought them into awkward financial relations not only with patrons and incumbents of churches, but with all ranks of the laity, often at moments of personal stress. It was a semi-serious academic exercise to raise formal debate on the quaestio whether an archdeacon could be saved. Conscientious archdeacons, if there were any such, had to watch their steps, for others were watching those steps too.

It is therefore fascinating to find that in 1327 the Archidiaconus de Baptesio et insulis in ecclesia Constantiense (Bauptois and the Islands may have been combined in one archdeaconry from early times) thought it necessary to issue what nowadays would be termed a Press Notice. In this he explains that when he had been entertained recently in the Priory of St Clement in Jersey he had gone there non ratione procurationis seu visitation is sed invitatus ad preces prioris ejusdem prioratus ex curialitate sua et non alias, which may be roughly translated "not to carry out any formal business or to conduct a Visitation, but on the invitation of the prior of the said priory, in answer to his entreaties and by his courtesy, and for no other reason".

Even at this late date the visit of an archdeacon to Petrivilla might give rise to malicious gossip.


The conclusions to which this enquiry points may be summarised as follows. The apparently symmetrical pattern of the twelve parishes of Jersey can be traced back to the first half of the eleventh century, when it formed part of the reorganisation of the diocese of Coutances which followed the return of the Bishop and his clergy to their cathedral city after their long exile at Rouen during the worst period of Norse devastation in the tenth century.

The diocesan officials most likely to have been concerned in setting up the present parochial system are the archdeacons, one of whom had special responsibility for the island churches, while another became patron of St Saviour, a parish whose special financial arrangements were designed for the convenience of diocesan administration. In the choice of sites for the parish churches the archdeacons were motivated partly by surviving memories of local saints, and by visible remains of earlier Christian buildings destroyed by the Norsemen, and partly by arrangements with some of the newly enfeoffed Norman knights from the Cotentin, who saw advantage in establishing churches which would be in their gift, and might be useful in opening up undeveloped land on or related to their fiefs.

Thus in the early stages there may have been a distinction between "free churches" and "seigneurial churches", but during the twelfth century all the advowsons, except St Saviour, which Coutances retained, found their way into the possession of mainland monasteries of which St Sauveur-le-Vicomte, Mont St Michel and Cerisy were the most conspicuous, with minor shares in tithes going to some others, especially the Abbesses of Montivilliers and of Holy Trinity at Caen.

With the elimination of lay patronage at this time the financial advantages of the parochial system in Jersey passed wholly into the hands of continental churches, a process no doubt greatly assisted by the absence of any central lay authority in the island, and the very loose and haphazard relationship which had existed from the start between the parishes and the fiefs.

This was because the parochial system was established earlier than and unrelated to most of the lay fiefs, and seems to have ante-dated the development of harbours such as Gorey and St Aubin. There is structural evidence from the churches themselves for the use of something like a common blueprint design for buildings with an aisleless cruciform plan, though transepts may not have been built in every case, and there is little evidence for the original form of the chancels. Such a plan, however varied in detail, would be consistent with the conclusion that the parochial pattern was laid down and the churches mostly built in the first half of the eleventh century, whether or not any of them are found to incorporate recognisable remains of earlier structures.

It is obvious that finality in this matter of parochial origins cannot be achieved by a study of the evidence for Jersey alone. Parallel developments must have taken place for much the same reasons not only in Guernsey, but also in the neighbouring parts of Brittany and Normandy and these may well help to explain what happened in Jersey. In particular, what evidence may exist for the activities of the Coutances archdeacons in reorganizing the mainland deaneries of the diocese in the eleventh century would be highly relevant to this enquiry.

So far as Guernsey is concerned a superficial glance suggests that in some significant particulars matters may have taken a somewhat different course. Thus there does not seem to have been the same architectural conformity of plan among the early churches, several of which now have western towers, and perhaps always had them. Nor is there any obvious sign there of a parish like St Saviour in Jersey that was distinguished from the others by its close links with the diocesan administration of Coutances.

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