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A brief history of St Mary's Church

There is a great similarity between Jersey's twelve parish churches. For the most part, they probably started as small chapels, which had a tower and crossing added at a later date, leading to a west nave so that the original chapel became the chancel. One theory is that at some time in the 11/12th centuries building was begun simultaneously on the twelve parish churches, on a common cruciform design. Subsequent alterations and additions developed them into the complex and interesting buildings which they are now.

 

The earliest known mention of St Mary's church is in 1042, when Guillaume, Duc de Normandie, later William the Conqueror of England, gave to the Abbey of Cerisy in Normandy two 'free' churches in Jersey, St Mary and St Martin (ecclesia Sancta Maria arsii monasterii et Sancti Martini veteris). This name, St Mary of the Burnt Monastery, suggests that the church was built on or near the actual site of a primitive monastery which was destroyed by fire, perhaps during a raid by Norse pirates.

 

It seems likely that this monastery at St Mary was a daughter establishment of the known monastic centre in Sark, founded in about 570 by St Maglorius (St Mannelier) within sight and comparatively easy reach of the St Mary coastline. Whether these early missionaries followed the stream from Greve de Lecq or came up the cliffs at Les Reuses or elsewhere, they would have come to the area known as Les Marais. From Les Marais in a southerly direction runs La Rue du Motier (a form of the word monastery). There are fields called Le Clos du Motier to the west, that is, due north of the church, and other significant place names occur in this part of the parish. There are indications that the site of the church may also have been of importance in pre-christian times in that it is due south of La Hougue Mauger, a bronze age burial mound.

 

A relic of these early medieval times, perhaps even part of the burnt monastery, is an incised stone of Mont Mado granite, now lying sideways at ground level near the west door. It bears the likeness of a man holding a chalice and a fish, the earliest symbol of Christianity. It was certainly a priest's tombstone, callously re-used as building material.


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