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A Brief History of Grouville Church

by A.M. Bellows (1987, with revisions 2001)

This is an adaptation of narrative for a slide-show shown at the Pageant of Grouville Church produced by myself and Rosemary Hampton in 1987.

Grouville Church nestles snugly on the hillside going down towards Gorey. The Church has always maintained close links with the local farming, community, with services of dedication, such as Plough Sunday. There would have been ploughing on our rich Jersey soil back In Norman times, when a tenth portion, or tithe of the farmer's produce was paid to the Church.
Before William, Duke of Normandy, conquered England, Jersey was already part of his possessions. And charters, signed by him, mention Grouville Church. He did not only leave his mark on a charter, but also in the slim Norman windows that date from around this time. These narrow windows would have let in little light, and left the inside of the Church very dark. Also Norman are the early ornamental buttresses, which still rest against the outside walls.
The Thirteenth Century saw a touch of grandeur added to the Church. From Normandy stoneworkers came the new fashion in Church design: a stone spire, soaring upwards to heaven,
The Fourteenth Century saw yet another change. The population of the Parish increased, and a larger Church was required. So the South Chapel was built. This was a time of growing prosperity and importance for the Church, It is from this period that the first known Rector, Pierre Falaise, is mentioned - and be was also Proctor of the Bishop of Coutances!
But all this growth was to be shattered by the terrifying arrival of the Black Death. This pestilence spread across Europe, and a third of the population perished. There was no cure. Perhaps It was the of that time which prompted a craftsman to carve a gargoyle head. We do not know. The head was carved on an early Piscina in the Church - this was a place for the priest to wash the communion vessels. Its crude design suggests that many of the skilled artisans of former times had perished in the plaque.
Slowly but surely, the Island recovered from the plague. The Fifteenth Century saw the population growing again. The farmer's work remained much the same as it had ever been.
But for skilled artisans It was an exciting time of change; gone was the age of crude stonework; in its place came fine and beautifully proportioned work. In Grouville, this is reflected in the elegant later Piscinas which would have been used for the priest to wash the communion vessels after service. This was also the time when much larger windows were placed in the walls., Although the original stained glass was destroyed In the Reformation, we can still see the delicate stone tracery into which the glass fitted.
With such windows such as those, the Church became a brighter place inside. It might also have been enriched by a small organ such as was used in Mediaeval worship. It is from this time that the font dates. It can be seen that there are two basins; a large one, for holding the holy water, and a smaller one, to catch the drippings from the baby's head.
And there were more additions to come: during the Fifteenth Century, the North Chapel was built using moneys given by the Amy family.
But the tranquillity of Grouville was to be shattered once more. In 1518, Martin Luther nailed his arguments protesting against Church corruption to a Church door in Germany. This event marks the start of the Reformation, which spread rapidly throughout Europe. By 1528, Protestant Martyrs were being burnt in nearby Normandy.
In England, a quarrel with the Pope over the legitimacy of Henry VIII's marriage to Catharine of Aragon led to a break from the Roman Church. Under the shrewd management of the King's Chancellor, Thomas Cromwell, the monasteries were closed, and Church lands seized by the crown.
The Rector of Grouville was Thomas de Soulemont, who was very much an absentee Rector, He spent much of his time at Court in England, for he was French Secretary to Henry VIII, and also Private Secretary to Thomas Cromwell. As French Secretary, he would have met with ambassadors from the Continent, seeking to maintain good diplomatic relations at this difficult time. As with all Civil Servants, his position also involved a good deal of paperwork, some of which has survived, and shows his flowery signature.
The Reformation had come to Jersey. The power of the Pope over the Jerseyman was broken. But if corruption had gone, so had the old securities. Would the Church survive? But the Reformation was not all paperwork and the unscrupulous theft of Church property. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cramner, was a gentle, forgiving, and saintly man. His firm faith would light the way and sow the seeds of true reform.
The Reformation brought a great change in the style of worship. Gone was the screen dividing priest from people. Gone was the altar. In place of this, the pulpit become the place of central Importance, where people would hear the word of God. And rather than use a prayer book in the foreign
language of English, the Jerseyman used and understood the only French prayer book available, which was the French prayer book of Calvin.
In France, there was a growing hatred of Protestants. On St Bartholomew's day, In 1572, all the hate and fear erupted. There was a savage .massacre of many French Protestants, They knew that they would no longer be safe in France, and crowds of refugees fled to Jersey.
By the 17th Century, these refugees had become part of the Island community. We have a testimonial letter, signed by many of the Island's Rectors, which shows the signature of Elie de la Place, Rector of Grouville. But there is also the signature of Daniel Brevint, Rector of St Martin - a descendant of the French Protestants. His son, also called Daniel Brevint, became Rector of Grouville in 1648.
Brevint would have used the old French Prayer book. But In 1667, this was replaced by a French version of the Book of Common Prayer, faithfully translated by a Jerseyman - Jean Le Vavasseur dit Durell.
From around this time, Grouville also acquired a silver collecting plate, and finely wrought silver chalices. It was a sign of new prosperity.
But despite such good fortune, there still lurked the menacing threat of invasion by French troops. So two cannons were kept in the back of the Church.
The entrance to the Church was enlarged to accommodate
the cannons, and the larger entrance is still visible
In 1781, a French invasion force landed stealthily at La Rocque. While the main army marched to St Helier, a contingent remained at La Rocque. Francois Le Couteur, then Rector of St Martin, was so keen to defeat the invaders that he turned up at La Rocque with his own two cannons! Le Couteur urged the more cautious military commander to attack, and after some hesitation, the grenadiers were ordered to charge the enemy. The French rearguard were defeated. 8 years later, this fiery Rector left St Martin to become Rector of Grouville. Here he, devoted some of his vast energies to the cultivation of orchards, and the making of Jersey cider. And he wrote books about how to make the best cider, and how to cultivate the finest apple trees,
But what was happening in the Church? Above the nave, a gallery. Collections were now taken in Georgian collecting jars. Services would have seen the introduction of fine pieces of Georgian silver: a jug and a baptismal bowl.
But despite the outward signs of good fortune, the Church was slowly decaying. By the early 19th Century, the Church was suffering badly from the effects of rising damp, and needed major repairs.
This restoration was largely the undertaking of the new Rector, Abraham Le Sueur. Le Sueur was a man of deep compassion, concerned not only to rebuilt the stonework, but also to rebuild the Christian life of the Parish. He devoted much time to the welfare of the poor, and took at active role in the work of the Grouville Home for Orphan Girls. He was also a great believer in education, and was much involved with the Parish School. Le Sueur believed that education could instil values to live by, and give some dignity and hope of employment to the poor. But he was also active In the Church, buying pews from rich families so that they could be made available to everyone And he encouraged the choir so that the quality of music might uplift the whole congregation in singing their praises to God,
Another eminent Victorian who did much towards brightening the Church was Bertrand Payn. Since the Reformation, there had been no stained glass in the Church windows, but only clear glass. Payn made for the Church a window which depicted stages in the life of St Martin, the Saint to whom the Church is dedicated. He also made, for the South Chapel, windows depicting Christ's Baptism and Nativity. their craftsmen also left their mark in the fine stained glass that now enriched the Church.
And so our story draws to a close, with the coming of the 20th century. Grouville Church is fortunate to have inherited the riches of so many ages past. Let us hope that today’s congregation, in their turn, enrich the worship of the Church for future generations.