28 July 2018

#Research: Medieval Religious Wall Paintings - Jersey

Our Lady of the Light, east end view
Last time I posted about the Neolithic passage tomb at La Hougue Bie in Jersey, one of the Channel Islands lying to the south of UK mainland. Here I’m concentrating on the medieval chapel which sits atop of it, Notre Dame de la Clarté – Our Lady of the Light – and religious wall paintings.

The date of the first Christian building to be raised on top of this known pagan “building” is lost, but the current one dates from the 12th century.

It was altered over the centuries, fairly substantially in the early 16th. After a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, the then Dean of Jersey had a shrine constructed within the fabric of the building to replicate the Holy Sepulchre he’d visited in Jerusalem – a sort of early virtual reality. So far so good.

Then he led pilgrimages to the chapel after saying he’d had visions of the Virgin Mary while praying there. Then a statue was erected whose hand was said to “move” in an appeal for offerings. Then “miracles” followed in the form of floating candles. Er… right. 

Archangels on the plastered ceiling. Centre plinth for a figure of the Virgin.
Whether all this did occur, or whether it was “documented” as occurring by a vested interest, is open to congecture. As was the rest of Europe, the island was on the cusp of the Protestant Reformation, and far more desperate measures were being taken on all sides elsewhere.

Despite this notoriety, the building falling into disrepair in post-Reformation centuries, and in 1792 it becoming part of a pleasure garden tower, some of its late medieval wall paintings remain in situ. As with most wall paintings of the period, the organic colours of these two archangels have faded to pastel shades, but remain impressive, nonetheless. 

Detailed view of the archangels, Notre Dame de la Clarté.

Even more impressive are the wall paintings in the Chapelle-ès-Pêcheurs – The Fisherman’s Chapel –  a few miles distant in St Brelade’s Bay. To confuse matters, this small-windowed building sited overlooking the sea has no connection to fisherman. So close to the parish Church of Saint Brelade as to forestall photography, it is believed to be the site of the original wooden parish church, rebuilt in stone after the much larger Saint Brelade’s was completed within touching distance.

The Resurrection

If the wall paintings are to be believed, in the 14th century the smaller building was taken over by a prominent family as its personal chantry chapel for masses to be held for the souls of the dead. Or their dead.

The Annunciation

At the foot of the painting of the Annunciation are fourteen figures, thought to be members of the family. Not so much fisherman, ‘pêcheurs’, as sinners, ‘pécheurs’. It’s amazing the difference a diacritical can make.

Or, in the cases of both chapels, the prominence of money. 

NB: Click on the images to bring up a larger view. All photos (c) Linda Acaster.


  1. Replies
    1. Pleased you enjoyed it, Sharon. There should be another one in a week.