This history of the Parish Church of St Lawrence is based on some of the original research by the late Reverend G R Balleine, MA and the late Reverend Paul Harrison, MA. The additional notes are the work of Mr Alfred S Pipon and AJB.
Philip J Warren, Rector, 2015.
‘I was glad when they said unto me, ‘We will go into the house of the Lord.’’
History & Guide - The Parish Church of St Lawrence
Who is St Lawrence?
Lawrence was one of the seven deacons of Rome closely associated with the Bishop of Rome (Pope Sixtus II). Deacons had a distinct role in collecting and distributing the alms to the poor. Lawrence was an upright and compassionate man, noted for the care and concern he showed in distributing alms. Lawrence was so respected for his service of alms distribution that he became the patron saint of almoners. When the church in Rome was suffering under the persecution of the Emperor Valerian, Lawrence was ordered to hand over the treasures of the Church. He assembled the poor and sick and said ‘Here are the Church’s treasures.’ The Emperor Valerian insisted that all Bishops, Priests and Deacons, should take part in the official pagan worship, or else be executed. Pope Sixtus II and the Deacons, including Lawrence, refused. Sixtus was arrested and slain by the sword.
Lawrence, on hearing of the death of Sixtus, refused to go into hiding, and four days later was arrested as he went about his alms-giving, and was punished by being roasted to death on an iron frame. This is why St Lawrence has as its emblem a gridiron on a hook. He was buried in the cemetery on the road to Tivoli in Rome, where the church of St Lawrence Outside-the-walls, stands to this day. This was in the year 258 and tradition has it that it was on the 10th of August.
No-one can date our parish churches. Old parts were pulled down and re-built, new chapels and aisles were added for their enlargement and, at St Lawrence the process was such that no part of the original structure can be identified. St Lawrence Parish had at least four chapels, St Clair, St Eutrope, St Nicholas and St Lawrence, of which the last gradually developed into the Parish Church. The church, one of the most beautiful and interesting in Jersey, is named after St Lawrence the Martyr.
Its patron was the Abbot of Blanche-Lande, who received the third part of the tithe, the Abbot of St Sauveur le Vicomte was allotted one-sixth and the Bishop of Avranche a half. The minister had sixteen vergees (seven acres) of land, and the living was worth 35 livres tournois (£1.35p). The oldest document to mention it is a Charter of 1198, by which John (the Lord of the Isles, and later King of England) gave the Abbey of Blanche-Lande in Normandy the Church of St Lawrence in Jersey. The consecration date of the Church of St Lawrence extracted from the Livre Noir (supposedly an authentic document formerly kept in the Cathedral of Coutance) is given as Monday 4th January 1199.
It is almost certain that it started life as a small chantry chapel on the site of the present chancel. When the family that owned it threw it open to their neighbours, a short nave was built. As the population increased, the nave was lengthened. Then a tower and two transepts were added, to give the Church the form of a cross. However, the tower only attained its present height during the restoration of 1890-1892.
The north transept was swallowed later by the building of the north aisle. The south transept is now the south porch and vestry.. In the 13th century, the Parish demolished the old nave and built the present one, longer and loftier than its predecessors. The stonework shows that it was added to the tower and not vice-versa. This meant that the nave had become much finer than the chancel, so in the 15th century the latter was pulled down and the present one built. The two last sections can be dated exactly. Sire Louis Hamptonne was Rector for fifty-six years (1502-1558). He was rich and generous; and his benefactions included the addition to the Church of the beautiful Hamptonne Chapel, with its vaulted roof (unique in the Island) and its gargoyles, representing the spirits of evil driven out by the worship within. This is the finest piece of church architecture in the Island. The date of the chapel, 1524, is carved on the north-east buttress.
Hamptonne was still Rector twenty-two years later, when the north aisle was added. In 1546, the Royal Court authorised the sale of some wheat rentes belonging to the Tresor to pay for ‘the enlargements of the Church by constructing a chapel alongside the nave.’ The building then attained its present shape and size.
Rector Hamptonne lived long enough to see great changes in his Church. For years, Protestant propaganda had been undermining the old faith, and many of the clergy themselves were attracted by the new views of the Reformation. In 1548 the Jersey States imported two French Huguenot Pastors ‘to expound the word of God to the people purely and sincerely’, and since the Rectors contributed voluntarily to their support, we may assume that they were not opposed to reform. But Hamptonne cannot have been pleased when the Royal Commissioners began to confiscate church property. First, all endowments for Obits and Masses were seized. In this way, St Lawrence lost twenty-four endowments, as well as bequests left to two fraternities of St Nicholas and St Katherine. In 1549 the Act of Uniformity forbade Latin Services and this was obeyed for the following year the Privy Council thanked the Island ‘for embracing His Majesty’s laws concerning Divine Services’.
However, Jersey could not use Cranmer’s Prayer Book, for this had not yet been translated into French. The only French Prayer Book available was that of the Huguenots, so Hamptonne and his brethren had to make use of that. Then came the order to remove all images, closely followed by another to surrender all but one of the church bells. It has been suggested that St Lawrence had a full peal of eight bells. However, St Lawrence has the oldest church bell in the Island, and it is still in use today. It bears the inscription +CETTE CLOCHE EST POUR LA PAROISSE DE ST LORANS A IARZE 1592 I.W+ It is said that I.W. on the bell is for the founder, who was undoubtedly John Wallis of Salisbury, who was casting bells there from 1578-1624. Rector Hamptonne is unlikely to have made any more drastic changes in his church than the letter of the law required, but some of his successors were root and branch extremists.
Edouard de Carteret was one of those who signed the Discipline Ecclesiastique, which imposed the Calvinistic systems on the Island; and Claude Parent, who followed him, was a Frenchman who had been a Huguenot Pastor at Bayeux. Their respective reigns were De Carteret 1572-1576; Parent 1577-1580. Under them St Lawrence was transformed into a Huguenot temple.
The stone altars were broken down, and four times a year a long narrow wooden Communion table was set in front of the pulpit, where people stood all round it to receive their Communion. At St Lawrence, we are fortunate to have managed to retain this Communion table, which is now over 400 years old, although it is no longer in use.
The chancel was filled with pews facing the pulpit. The stained glass windows were smashed. The old wall paintings were blotted out with whitewash. This was done so thoroughly that, whereas in most of our churches stone corbels show where images once stood, in St Lawrence even the corbels have disappeared. The Calvinist regime lasted till 1623. The Dean Bandinel enforced for a time the reluctant use of the Prayer Book, but under Cromwell the old Huguenot Service was resumed. The French Prayer Book was finally restored in 1660 when the King regained his throne.
St Lawrence was the last church in the Island to see its great restoration, for three hundred years few changes were made to the internal arrangements. Those who remembered it as it was before 1890 knew what it looked like in the days of Charles II. Payne in his Armorial of Jersey, 1865, mentions in an article on St Lawrence Church, that some parts of the floor are devoid of stone or boards, and remain in their original state of mother earth, grown green by age and damp. We know what the exterior of the Church looked like before its great restoration, due to the sketch by WR Poore in 1887, almost two years prior to the restoration. However, it is most unfortunate that this original sketch which was on display in the Church was somehow lost during the last restoration.
The St Lawrence Church records for births, marriages and deaths are not quite as old as some of the other Parish Churches, this is possibly due to two reasons. One reason being that in the year 1564/5 the plague struck the Parish of St Lawrence, and one of its victims was the Rector, Johan Mauger. His executors were ordered to clean and disinfect the Rectory. There is no doubt that this was so thoroughly done that all the records were also destroyed. Secondly, there may have been another epidemic of some sort to cause the record books from 1565 to 1654 to also go missing. However, one would get the impression that it was possibly Rev. Josue Ahier who may have disposed of these Registers, so as to make a grand entry in a new book of his first child, Elizabeth’s baptism on the 26th November 1654, thus commencing our registers at this date. All the old record books of Births, Marriages and Deaths, as well as the Ecclesiastical Minute Books, have now been deposited for safe-keeping in the Jersey Central Archive.
(Plan of the Church)