Explore The Church
This article is reproduced from the December 2012 edition of Jersey Life.
The Société Jersiaise have found remains of a medieval Priory on the site of a corner of the modern churchyard of St Clement’s Parish Church
During recent archaeological excavations at St Clement, the Société Jersiaise’s archaeology section have found remains of the building, probably part of a priory, founded by the Abbey of Mont Saint Michel in Normandy in 1154 and dissolved on the orders of King Henry V in 1413.
The site of the Priory has been lost for several centuries. It was supposed to be part of the nearby Priory Inn, except that building is much more modern and was a converted farmhouse.
The Société’s field archaeologist, Robert Waterhouse FSA, who has been directing the excavations, thinks that the building that has been found was probably a Chapel, as many roofing slates from Normandy were found in the rubble wall footings, typical of those found on other medieval buildings in Jersey. It was also built on an east-west axis, suggesting a religious use.
Another medieval wall found nearby during excavations earlier this year is thought to be part of the priory’s surrounding wall.
Finds of 13th century pottery mingled with demolition rubble hints at an earlier asset-stripping exercise, perhaps after 1302 when King Edward I temporarily confiscated the priory and its lands. Buried remains of two ditches in the vicinity suggest that rainwater was a problem on the steeply sloping site and much pottery has been found in these, including a fine medieval jug handle.
The archaeological excavation site is at the western edge of the modern graveyard, just near the boundary war with the small lane that runs alongside and comes out onto the main road just by the churchyard gate.
Neil Molyneux of the Société’s Archaeology Section suggested that possibly that lane was a more major thoroughfare at the time, and so passers-by would find it convenient to ‘pop in’ as they made their way past, perhaps light a candle, say a prayer – and leave a donation.
The priory of St Clement was one of several smaller religious houses in Jersey, but seems to have been founded to administer estates owned by the Abbey of Mont Saint Michel, rather than for specifically religious reasons. Nevertheless, two or three monks are known to have lived there and several priors’ names are recorded.
Nearby would have been the priory building itself, and the ‘home farm’.
The whole complex might have been the home of a community of perhaps half a dozen people: perhaps to monks and lay servants or farm workers.
The names of the Priors that have come down to us are French but not particularly ‘Jersey’ and there is quite a frequent change of names. This suggests that monks would have been sent over from Mont saint Michel to spend some years in Jersey, and then return to the Abbey, or be sent elsewhere in what would these days be described as their ‘career development’. The names of the Jersey lay servants, however, are very familiar: Baudains, for example, who was the Priory’s cellarer, and would have dealt with the sale and purchase of provisions at the market. Then there are names such as Larbalestier, Blampied, Poingdestre…
It is known that the Priory owned three ‘carrucates’ of land – one carrucate was the amount of land a man with two oxen could plough in one year – so it was a sizeable estate. The land in St Clement was given to the Abbey of Mont Saint Michel in 1025 by a man named ‘Pierre’. He was, or had become, lame, and wished to enter the monastery – perhaps it was similar to the modern financial arrangements for affording residential care.
Its final dissolution in 1413 was carried out on the orders of King Henry V of England, who ordered that all religious houses whose founders were French must either surrender their lands to the Crown or reassign their properties to an English monastery. Most chose to surrender to the Crown, rather than acknowledge an English king. The only one to survive in Jersey was St Helier Priory, who site was taken over at the time of the Reformation in the 1530s and Elizabeth Castle was built on the same offshore islet.
And so Catholic Jersey disappeared: its priories, chapels, wayside crosses, church fittings and images, only to make something of a comeback with the influx of French immigrants and Irish workers at the turn of the 18th and 19th Centuries.