History of the Church

A brief history of St. Martin’s Church

The Church of St. Martin de la Bellouse dates back as far as 1048, when William “Prince of the Normans” (William the Conqueror) granted St. Martin’s as a Parish Church to the Abbot of Marmoutier, near Tours.  At that time the Channel Islands were under Norman sovereignty.

The choice of St. Martin as Patron Saint is obvious, since St. Martin had been the founder of the Abbey at Marmoutiers and also Bishop of Tours (AD 370).  Click here for a history of the life of St. Martin.

In the earliest days of the Church, revenues of the parish were paid to the Abbey at Marmoutiers.  In 1415, Henry V confiscated the revenues, although the Church remained part of the Diocese of Coutances in France.  It was not until  1568 that the Channel Islands were transferrd to the Diocese of Winchester.

The name St. Martin de la Bellouse is a mystery.  Though the road on which the Church sits is called La Bellieuse today, its origins are unknown.  It may have come from a Breton words “belorsa”, meaning sloe bushes, of which there are many in this area.

La Gran’ Mere du Chimquiere

At the entrance to the churchyard  stands La Gran’ Mere du Chimquiere (the grandmother of the churchyard), a Neolithic statue-menhir, dating from approximately 2500 – 1800BC.

The origins of the statue are lost in time but it is clear that people made offerings to ensure fertility or to effect a cure in times past.  Offerings of money are still placed upon her head, especially by brides and visitors.

At one time the statue stood near the Church porch, facing East but, probably because too much veneration was paid to her by parishioners, a zealous churchwarden ordered her destruction.  It was broken in two but such was the outcry that the statue was repaired and placed in its current position.  A metal spike now holds her together but the crack is clearly visible.

The head shows signs of being remodelled, probably during Roman times, as the garment that surrounds her head resembles clothing worn during this period.  Her expression can change dramatically, depending on the light.

The Church

The church stands on the site of a Neolithic tomb shrine below which two springs emerge.  The current building replaced a wooden structure and dates back to 1225.  A further aisle was added to the North in the 14th Century, doubling the size of the Church but limiting the view of the altar from this aisle.

The elegant and somewhat flamboyant porch was added in approx. 1520 but much of the stone used has weathered and the detail lost.  It has a sundial over the door, dating back to 1751.

Interior Interesting Facts

  • The font is the only pre-reformation font on the Island
  • The tower and spire has three chambers.  The top contains the bells, the lower one the clock and the third is the ringing chamber, made up of a large wooden wheel, 6 ft in diameter, which operates the bell.  The wheel, until recently, was turned by hand but due to the narrow and steep staircase ascent, it has now been automated.
  • The carved oak pulpit, in the Breton style, dates back to 1657.
  • The clarinets on display were used to accompany the choir prior to 1848, when the organ was first installed.
  • The boxed pews are a relatively new feature of the Church, being installed in 1910.
  • The beautiful altar frontal in the North Aisle was designed by Juliet Hemingway (who designed Lord Carey’s Archbishop robes) and is in memory of Tony Bougourd, a former member of St. Martin’s Church.  It depicts the cloak of St. Martin’s, cut in two with the cross at its heart.

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