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24 September 2014

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You are in: Guernsey > Faith > Vale Church

Vale Church

Vale Church

Vale Church

A brief history of the Vale church known as 'The Church of St Michel Du Valle'.

The Vale Church can be seen from a long distance as it is set on a low hill rising above the otherwise flat land which overlooks Grand Havre, the Vale pond, and L'Ancresse common.

Vale Church

The South face of the Church

The exact date of the foundation of the church on this site is not known, although it is likely to have been built following the arrival of the missionary Celtic Saint Sampson and his followers who attempted to evangelise Guernsey in the middle of the sixth century.

The church served as a priory when monks from the Benedictine monastery of Mont St Michel came to Guernsey to establish a community on the site around 968 AD.

The monastic influence can be seen with the lack regularity in Church’s layout where none of the walls are parallel with each other and the main axis of the Chancel is out of line with the main axis of the Nave. This deviation is well known as being attributed to an attempt in recalling the tortured agonised figure on the cross. Whether this was this symbolism was the intention of the monks or not, they either purposely or accidentally introduced this deviation in many cases and it is well known in England as known to monastic design.

Stained glass window

One of the many stained glass windows

Interesting Facts

• Up until 1806 the Vale Church had to be accessed by crossing over at low tide on stepping stones, or by boat at high tide, as the area formed a separate island from the rest of Guernsey. So like it dependency, the famous Abbey of Mont Saint Michel, the priory formed an island at high tide.
• The church has been built on a site associated with paganism which is suggested by rocks which are from a partly demolished Neolithic tomb shrine and the remains of a dolmen outside the west doors.
• It is the only church in Guernsey to have traces of monastic work in Guernsey (except in the small priory of Lihou). 
• The oldest part of the Church dates from the mid 12th century, when it belonged to Mont St Michel in Normandy.
• The window at the south west end of the nave is the work of local artist, Miss Mary Eilie de Putron showing the risen Christ appearing to saint Peter, who is wearing outfit of local fishermen.
• The window at the west of the Baptistery, depicting the Descent of the Holy spirit on the world, was designed by Peter Derham who is a Lay Reader at the Church.

Sun dial at Vale Church

The sun dial

The Sun dial

This vertical sundial is made of limestone. The sun dial has no numerical identification on the hour lines but the lines themselves which run from six am to six pm are still clearly visible. The dial is an inverted semicircle with a 'plinth' extension at the base. The gnomon that marks the shadow is missing, but you can still see the two holes where its support was. Though we do not know the exact age of the sundial it could well be contemporary with that part of the building it lays on, dating it to the end of the 12th century.

Monument at Vale Church

The stone situated outside the Baptistry

Monuments and Stones

In 1933 a tombstone was found in the churchyard that has a cross, an alpha and omega and an inscription on it which suggests Celtic work of the 7th or 8th century. This stone, together with the dedication of St Sampson's Church to a Celtic saint, provides evidence that there was a Celtic presence in the North of Guernsey in the dark ages.

This monument with a cross dates from the 7th or 8th century and was unearthed outside the West door of the church in 1949. Though it is believed that there was a Christian presence before, the stone tells us that there was a presence of a Christian community on this site in approximately 600 AD.

The Clock and Bells

The clock on the spire of the church strikes the hours with Westminster chimes. The bell was installed in 1898 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee the previous year, it was originally driven by weights but was then electrified in 1970.

Bell ropes at Vale Church

The bell ropes

There is a ring of six bells which were cast in 1981 using part of the metal from the previous three mediaeval bells which were put in place in the sixteenth century. The old tenor bell is said to have weighed 14 cwt (1568 lbs).

The Patron Saint of the Church

Saint Michael the patron saint of the Vale Church is one of the only three angels to be venerated (the other two being Gabriel and Raphael). Michael was thought to have appeared during a plague in Rome, gathering the souls of those who had died.

He is also known as a warrior saint who protected soldiers and provided victory over the forces of evil and is often invoked by military leaders as a sign of having God on their side.

last updated: 02/05/2008 at 12:21
created: 17/06/2005

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