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Grouville Church

by G.R. Balleine and P. Harrison

( from the date of its foundation until 1967)

Grouville Church or, to give it its full name, the Church of St Martin de Grouville, is younger than its northern namesake. The latter is called in ancient charters St Martin Le Viel, St Martin the Old. But St Martin of Grouville is of quite respectable antiquity. It was already a Parish Church before the Battle of Hastings, for it was one of the eight Jersey Churches which Duke William robbed of half their tithes to endow the Abbey of Montvilliers. In early days it apparently belonged to the Bisson family, for on July 25th, 1149, the day when his wife was buried in the cemetery at Lessay, Godfrey du Bisson gave to the Abbey at Lessay "the church of St Martin Grouville, with its alms and tithes". Later the family tried to recall this gift. In 1315 Sir Yon de Bisson challenged the right of the Abbot of Lessay to appoint the Rector on the ground that the patronage belonged to his family: but he withdrew his claim before it came before the Court.

In most of our Jersey churches the oldest part is the chancel, but at Grouville it is the Nave that was the original Church, as can be seen by looking at the walls, which are built of rough stones brought up from the beach. Everything else has been added later, the Chancel and Tower probably in the 14th century, the Chapels on either side of the Chancel in the 15th. The North Chapel used to be called La Chapelle des Amis, so was probably built by one of the Amys, who were for many years a leading family in the parish.

One Guide Book airily dismisses this Church as "containing nothing of interest"; but this is far from true.

It has more relics of medieval days than most of our Jersey Churches. First, there is the curious Font with its double bowl. In the Middle Ages the water in the font was only changed at long intervals, but there grew up a certain scruple about allowing the drippings from the child's head to return into the hallowed water. To avoid this in some French fonts of the fifteenth century a small bowl was carved on the inside to catch the water that had been used. Most of these had their own drain, but at Grouville the rim shows that this bowl contained a basin that could easily be removed and emptied in the churchyard. The history of this font is peculiar. Chevalier describes in his diary how two refugee Royalist Divines in 1650 discovered two fonts in a farmyard being used as pig-troughs. These proved to be the fonts of the Town Church and of the old Abbey Church in Elizabeth Castle, which had been thrown out of their Churches at the Reformation. One of these, we are told, had a bowl inside carved out of the same block of granite. They had them brought to the Town churchyard, but the congregation objected to their being brought into the Church. And we hear no more of them. But in the Museum there is an oil painting of about 1830, which shows what is obviously the Grouville font lying derelict in the grounds of the Hougue Bie. It seems probable that this was the font mentioned by Chevalier, though how it got to the Hougue Bie no one can say. When these grounds became a pleasure park attached to a public house, the proprietor removed the font into the Chapel as one of the show-pieces. But, when the Societe Jersiaise bought the place, it presented the font to Grouville Church, in whose parish the Hougue Bie stands.

The Chancel and each of the side chapels once had an altar, and in the Chancel and North Chapel can still be seen the piscinas in which the Priest used to wash the vessels. The two side altars probably belonged to the two Fraternities which we know existed in the parish, the Fraternity of St Nicolas for the men and the Fraternity of St Catherine for the women. The South Chapel has beside the spot where the altar used to stand a curious low recess in the wall with a carved head on its roof. This is a puzzle for antiquaries. It does not look like a piscina. It may have been an ambry or cupboard to contain the altar vessels, but, if so, it is curiously low. Some have suggested that it was an oven for baking the wafers for communion (Ovens of this kind can be seen in a few English Churches). And, if this was the women's altar, there may be something in the idea; though it is doubtful whether it would have been considered seemly for women to do this inside the Sanctuary. And none of these theories explain satisfactorily the presence of the carved head with a hole in the middle of its forehead. Was any Saint martyred by having his forehead pierced with a nail ? And, if so, why should his head have been carved in this dark recess, where no one would ever see it?

Another interesting thing in this Chapel is the trace of ancient frescoes on the wall. These are at present too dim to enable us to identify the subject, though I think I detected a tall, winged figure with a shield. One wonders whether by judicious treatment of the plaster or by the new methods of infra-red ray photography it would be possible to discover what these pictures were. The plain, white-washed walls of the nave as it is today are terribly dull and uninspiring.

The Church must have looked very different when its walls were a riot of colour. Bible pictures and legends of the Saints jostling one another for room in whichever direction one looked. A third curiosity in the South Chapel is an old holy water stoup; but this, like the font, was not part of the original Church, but has been brought in from outside.

Grouville is the only Church that possesses a spring in its own churchyard. If we know anything of the Middle Ages, some special virtue is sure to have been attributed to this water. At all events all Grouville babies for centuries have been baptised in water from the Fontaine de St Martin.

In addition to the Church there used to be four Medieval Chapels in the parish, the Chapel of Ste Susanne, on the road which is still called la rue Susanne, the Chapel of St Margaret on the Hill above the Church, which was turned into a barn at the Reformation, and pulled down in the 19th century, the Chapel of Notre Dame, which was bought by Dean Paulet, the last Catholic Dean before the Reformation, to be his private oratory, when the rest of the island turned Protestant, and later became a tavern, and the Chapel attached to the Manor of La Malletiere.

We have all heard of the definition of 'news' given by an editor to his reporters. "If a dog bites a Bishop, that is not news. If a Bishop bites a dog, that is news". In other words the ordinary everyday happenings, without which the world could not go on, are not news. It is only when something extraordinary happens that it gets into the headlines. And Grouville Church has gone on with its work quietly and uneventfully for the last four hundred years without anything sensational happening.

Yet the changing times have left their traces. We read that on December 16th, 1653, "Samuel Le Four and Marguerite Maugier were married in church. Michel Lempriere, the Bailiff, married them, by order, so it is said, of the English Parliament". This reminds us that under the Commonwealth all marriages were civil marriages, though the Rector might hold a religious ceremony afterwards, if desired.

The next unusual event recorded is the cutting down of a giant oak in the churchyard in 1704. It was sold by auction for 44 crowns, and produced 50 tons of wood. The purchaser, Jean Du Boulivot, secured from it 4 beams 22 feet long, 14 beams for cider-presses, 480 spokes for wheels, a large quantity of cask staves and tub bottoms, an immense amount of wood for ship-building, and 6 cartloads of bark for tanning.

While the battle of Jersey was being fought in the Town in 1781, the Company of the 83rd Regiment that was stationed at Grouville was attacking the rear-guard that the French had left at La Rocque. Seven grenadiers were killed in this little action, and the large slab of granite erected "to the memory of these brave men by the principal inhabitants of the parish" now stands in the corner of the churchyard.

In 1788 a gallery to hold fifteen pews was built at the west end of the church. Six of these were to be reserved for the choir; and in the following year the Parish Assembly congratulated the choir on the excellence of its singing. There was still no organ; but the singing was accompanied by a small orchestra, and in 1819 the Assembly authorised the purchase of two new clarinets.

In 1838 there was a big restoration. The whole Church was re-roofed with slate. All the old pews and paving were removed and the level of the floor was raised two feet above the original, owing to damp.

In 1843 further changes were made. An organ was bought and placed in the West gallery. At this time the West end of the Church was boarded in to hold the militia cannon; this was called the 'Arsenal'. Access to this was through a door made in the West wall, where the porch is now.

Above the arsenal was a room for Sunday School which was approached by a stone stair outside the West wall; the stone work still shows where the door was situated. In addition, there was a passage higher still, running the whole length of the Nave and leading to the door, above the belfry arch, which opened on to the ringing chamber. The bell is one of the finest in the Island and bears the inscription: "J'ai este faite fondre a Londres par les paroissiens de Grouville an 1768 je paze 14 cwt. I qr. 2 Ibs. Ch:de la Garde, Rector. Thos: Labey, Constable. Frances Marett, Jean Hooper, Survts. Lester & Pack of London, fecit".

In 1848 the stone stair up to the Sunday School was removed and a wooden one inside the Church, was substituted. At the East end two small windows, one on either side of the Altar, which had long been walled-up, were re-opened.

The foundation stone of the little Chapel of St Pierre de la Rocque was laid in 1852, when Abraham Le Sueur was Rector.

Since 1872, when the piscina on the south of the Altar was discovered, various alterations have taken place. The lighting system was changed from oil lamps to acetylene gas, then to coal gas and finally to electricity. The North Chapel has been restored to its original purpose and an Altar has been installed. The floor of the Nave has been made solid with concrete—the old floor having become unsafe through damp and dry-rot—and covered with wood blocks. In addition pews of English oak have been substituted for the old ones. The organ has been completely transformed, with one part being at the rear of the Nave and the other part in the South Chapel, thus ensuring an even flow of sound right through the Church. Finally an electric clock was installed in the belfry, much to the delight of the parishioners.


This was built to serve the fishing community which flourished in that part of the parish. There have not been any structural alterations since 1852, but the inside has been beautified by many gifts, especially during the last 15 years. These have included a carved oak 'eagle' Lectern, a Sanctuary Chair, and a Priest's Desk and Chair. It still serves a large and growing community in and around La Rocque.


In addition to the two places of worship already described there is another Chapel in the Parish of Grouville situated at La Hougue Bie. To be precise, there are two Chapels housed under the same roof! The very ancient heathen burial mound—thought by some to be the oldest in Europe—has been surmounted by a Christian place of worship ever since the 12th Century. The simple little Chapel was built in this Century in honour of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, of Notre Dame de Lorette and St Michael. It was known by the beautiful name of the "Chapel de Notre Dame de la Clarte"—Our Lady' of the Dawn.

When the Societe Jersiaise took over La Hougue Bie in 1924 in order to excavate the mound, the Chapels were gradually restored to their original use. A granite altar stone, with the five crosses inscribed, was removed from Gorey Castle and set up, and in 1931 the Chapel was reconciled by the Lord Bishop of Winchester. The Jerusalem Chapel was built on to the east of the earlier Chapel by Dean Richard Mabon, in 1538, in honour of the Passion of Our Lord. In addition he built a crypt as a replica of the Holy Sepulchre, underneath this Chapel, after a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. In succeeding Centuries the Chapels were used for secular purposes and a high tower was built upon them; from the top of which it was possible to see almost the whole of Jersey on a clear day.

The Societe Jersiaise has done good work in restoring these Chapels. Since 1931 the Holy Communion has been regularly celebrated in the larger Chapel on July 2nd, the anniversary of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and in latter years, an open air service has been held as well.