No one can date the parish churches of Jersey precisely. Old parts were pulled down and re-built new chapels and aisles were added for their enlargement and, at St. Lawrence the process was such that no part of the original structure can be identified. St. Lawrence Parish had at least four chapels, St. Clair, St. Eutrope, St. Nicholas and St. Lawrence, of which the last gradually developed into the Parish Church.
It's patron was the Abbot of Blanche-Lande, who received the third part of the tithe, the Abbot of St. Sauveur le Vitcomte was alloted one-sixth and the Bishop of Avranche a half. The minister had sixteen vergees (seven acres) of land, and the living was worth 35 livres tournois (£1.35p). The oldest document to mention it is a Charter of 1198, by which John (the Lord of the Isles, and later King of England) gave the Abbey of Blanche-Lande in Normandy the Church of St. Lawrence in Jersey. The consecration date of the Church of St. Lawrence extracted from the Livre Noir (supposedly an authentic document formerly kept in the Cathedral of Coutance) is given as Monday 4th January 1199.
It is almost certain that it (the Church) started life as a small chantry chapel on the site of the present chancel. When the family that owned it threw it open to their neighbours, a short nave was built. As the population increased the nave was lengthened. Then a tower and two transepts were added, to give the Church the form of a cross. It is interesting to note that the tower only attained its present height during the restoration of 1890-1892.
The north transept was swallowed later by the building of the north aisle. The south transept is now the south porch. In the 13th century, the Parish demolished the old nave and built the present one, longer and loftier than its predecessors. The stonework shows that it was added to the tower and not vice-versa. This meant that the nave had become much finer than the chancel, so in the 15th century the latter was pulled down and the present one built. The two last sections can be dated exactly. Sire Louis Hamptonne was Rector for fifty-six years (1502-1558). He was rich and generous; his benefactions included the addition to the Church of the beautiful Hamptonne Chapel, with it's vaulted roof (unique on the Island of Jersey)
and it's gargoyles, representing spirits of evil driven out by the worship within. The date of the chapel is 1524 and is carved on the north-east buttress.
Hamptonne was still Rector twenty-two years later, when the north aisle was added. In 1546, the Royal Court authorised authorised the sale of wheat rents belonging to the treasor to pay for the "enlargements of the Church by constructing a chapel alongside the nave". The building then attained its present shape and size.
Rector Hamptonne lived long enough to see great changes in his Church. For years, Protestant propaganda had been undermining the old faith, and many of the clergy themselves were attracted by the new views of the Reformation. In 1548 the Jersey States imported two French Huguenot Pastors "to expound the word of God to the people purely and sincerely", and since the Rectors contributed voluntarily to their support, we may assume that they were not opposed to reform.
(Above is a photograph of the long wooden Calvinist Communion Table, that is on display in the church of St. Lawrence.)
Hamptonne cannot have been pleased when the Royal Commissioners began to confiscate Church property. First all the obits and Masses were seized. In this way St. Lawrence lost twenty-four endowments, as well as bequests left to two fraternities of St. Nicholas and St. Katherine. In 1549 the Act of Uniformity forbade Latin Services and this was obeyed and the following year the Privy Council thanked the island for "embracing His Majesty's laws concerning Divine Services".
However, Jersey could not use Cranmer's Prayer Book, for this had not yet been translated into French. The only French Prayer Book available was that of the Huguenots, so Hamptonne and his brethren had to make use of that. Then came the order to remove all images, closely followed by another to surrender all but one of the church bells.
Edouard de Carteret was one of those who signed the Discipline Ecclesiastique, which imposed the Calvinistic systems on the Island; and Claude Parent, who followed him, was a Frenchman who had been a Huguenot Pastor at Bayeux. Their respective reigns were De Carteret 1572-1576; Parent 1577-1580. Under them St. Lawrence was transformed into a Huguenot temple.
The stone altars were broken down, and four times a year a long narrow wooden Communion table was set in front of the pulpit, where people stood all round for Communion.
The chancel was filled with pews facing the pulpit. The stained glass windows were smashed. The old wall paintings were blotted out with whitewash. This was done so thoroughly that, whereas in most Jersey Churches stone corbels show were images once stood, in St. Lawrence even the corbels have disappeared. The Calvinist regime lasted till 1623. The Dean Bandinel enforced for a time the reluctant use of the Prayer Book, but under Cromwell the old Hugeunot service was resumed. The French Prayer Book was finally restored in 1660 when the King regained his throne.
St. Lawrence was the last church in the Island to see its great restoration, for three hundred years few changes were made to the internal arrangements. Those who remembered it as it was before 1890 knew what it looked like in the days of Charles II.
The following are scenes from the life of St. Lawrence
The beautiful East Window showing the Last Supper has a peculiar object on the table.
More of the fine Glass on display in St. Lawrences.