The Parish Church of S. Michel du Valle

The northern part of the parish formed an island at high tide, until the channel was reclaimed in Napoleonic times – the only part remaining being the Vale Pond, which can be seen to the south of the Church. The bay of Grande Havre still splits the parish into two parts. Like many Christian places of worship, this church has been built on a hill site associated with paganism, and like many churches on hills, it is dedicated to St Michael. The exact date of the foundation of this church is unknown, though it is not unreasonable to suppose that one was built here following the missionary endeavours of the Celtic Saint Sampson and his followers who attempted to evangelise Guernsey in the middle of the sixth century. An early chapel dedicated to his cousin, St Magloire, was built elsewhere in the parish, but all traces of it have disappeared. Within the present church there is evidence of much older materials being used in the building, for example in the South wall of the Chancel where some Roman bricks have been reused, but these could have come from anywhere around, not necessarily a previous building on this site.

Certainly, around 968AD, monks from Mont S.Michel founded a Priory and were granted land to maintain an income. The priory buildings were in what is now the Rectory garden to the South of the Church. Little remains of the Priory itself, apart from a piece of buttressed wall by the main road, and indications that a stairway may have led to a doorway into the chancel on the south side.

The influence of the Priory can be clearly seen in the chancel, where the Chancel arch, the balloon vault and the arches of the monks’ stalls were inserted into an earlier building. Evidence of the gradual extension of the church may be found in the location of three piscinae, (stone washbasins for the priest to cleanse the communion vessels and for the ceremonial washing of hands, situated at the south side of an altar). The location of a piscina west of the chancel arch would indicate the presence of a side altar here before the present wider arch was inserted. By the High Altar is an unusually large piscina, and in the chapel of the Archangels to the north of the chancel, there is a piscina intricately carved in granite (c. 1475-1500). In the 13th century the north aisle and chapel were added in two stages, and the arches of the arcade were pierced through the earlier north wall of the nave and chancel. In the arch above the pulpit there is carved a dog’s head, the mark of a stonemason.

Considerable change was made to the appearance of the church after 1876, during the incumbency of the Rev’d Thomas Bell, who was Rector for over 50 years. The re-ordering of the chancel and the baptistry, re-seating of the nave, some of the stained glass windows, the bells, the lectern, the organ, and the mosaic reredos of 1904 are evidence of his influence.

The windows have mostly been given in memory of parishioners. In the North aisle are Mary and the infant Jesus; Christ, the Light of the World; and Abraham and Isaac. The Archangels Raphael, Michael, and Gabriel are in the East window of the Chapel of the Archangels, here the tracery is of the fifteenth century, but the glass is from the nineteenth century studio of William Morris. The main East Window above the High Altar is a memorial to John Ingrouille who was imprisoned in Germany during the Second World War, but died in a Brussels hospital before he could reach home. In the South side of the nave are the Women at the Sepulchre; The Good Shepherd; and the Risen Christ appearing to S. Peter, who is wearing the outfit of a local fisherman, and the hills of Galilee bear a striking resemblance to Herm and Jethou. This window is the work of a local artist, Miss Mary Eilie de Putron.

The window in the west wall of the Baptistry, depicting the Descent of the Holy Spirit on the world, was designed by Peter Derham, a lay reader at the Church.

The tower contains a ring of six bells, tenor 6½ cwt, which were cast in 1891 using the metal of three mediæval bells from the Exeter foundry. The ringers usually practice on Monday evening. There is also a small chiming bell, dated 1778, used for weekday services. The Church clock was installed in 1897 to mark Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.

Recent alterations and additions to the church fabric include a first-floor vestry occupying a space where, in the eighteenth century, there was musicians gallery. A painting by Penny Warden of St Michael, our patron saint, is high up on the East wall of this vestry. New oak and glass inner doors, in memory of the Revd Peter Simpson, and outer doors to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the Island from German Occupation have been installed in the porch. The Arms of the Queen (patron of the parish) over the North door mark her Golden Jubilee.

None of the memorials is of great antiquity, but a flagstone near the entrance to the vestry has the impression of a fifteenth century brass, and next to it is a memorial slab, dated 1685, to the wife of Elie de Hayes, the first Anglican Rector of the parish.

A board at the west end of the Nave lists the known incumbents. Originally the parish was supplied with priests from Mont St Michel. After the reformation there was a problem finding Anglican clergy who could speak French, the language of the island, and for 80 years the island became Calvinist, until the Anglican church was established after the Restoration of the Monarchy. For many years the parish shared a Rector with St Sampson’s. Most of the services continued to be in French until after the First World War. Documents of the Feudal Court exist from 1409, and the church registers from 1580.

Outside the Church the natural rocks outside the west doors have been supposed to be a partly demolished Neolithic tomb shrine, and the remains of a dolmen. At the base of the hill below the rock a memorial tells of the wreck of the ship “Sea Witch”, it has a portion of the ship inserted in the stonework. The upright stone by the boiler house is a Christianised menhir, later used as a gravestone. On the Northern slope of the hill a stone tells of the death of Olympe Mahy, stabbed to death through an open window by a soldier. A representation of the incident could be discerned at the head of the stone, but it is now too eroded to make out the details.

On the south side of the hill the Rectory grounds occupy the site of the priory. Little remains of the Priory itself, apart from the piece of buttressed wall by the main road, which may have been part of the gatehouse. In 2009 this was incorporated into the Billie and Leslie Norman Rooms which are used for the Sunday School and as church meeting rooms.