Mont Orgueil chapels

From Jerripedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Societe logo.png

Mont Orgueil chapels

Hilgrove Turner.jpg

Hilgrove Turner

This article by Colin Platt was first published in the 2006 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise. The same edition also contained the article by John McCormack which is referred to in the introduction

Not long ago, in the context of the recent programme of renovations at Mont Orgueil, the claim was made of the big vaulted chamber in the Keep that 'its popular identification as St Mary's Chapel is without authority'; instead, thought Dr Dixon, 'the building fits well into a class of 13th-century upper floor halls', with parallels at Chepstow, Haughton and Norharn.?' Those parallels, at best, are remote. And John McCormack, on architectural grounds, makes the more traditional case for chapel use.

Edmund Toulmin Nicolle

Edmund Nicolle

My purpose here is to explore the documentary background to that 'popular identification', and to show why Edmund Toulmin Nicolle, the author of the only full-length history of Mont Orgueil, came to endorse it with the conviction that he did.

I will argue in this paper that, far from being the 'great leap of the imagination' of which he has been accused by Dr Rodwell, Nicolle's identification of the upper vault as St Mary's Chapel was both carefully evidenced and soundly based. While not the first of Mont Orgueil's historians to make the association, Nicolle was unquestionably the best informed and most persuasive.

Before Nicolle, the only other study of Mont Orgueil of comparable authority had been Col Oldfield's Some Account of Mont Orgueil Castle in the Island of Jersey; its present state, its various alterations and additions (1838). Oldfield, exceptionally, had favoured an explanation of this 'large vaulted apartment' as 'probably the great hall, refectory or banqueting room' of the castle.

But he also observed in passing that 'a person who has been in the employ of the Ordnance Department nearly half a century states this room always to have been called the Old Church. And that tradition would live on until at least the 1860s, when Augustus Le Gros was to describe the 'room above the ancient crypt' as having 'long been known as the old Church of the Castle' .

Hilgrove Turner

Other evidence, in the meantime, had come to light. Oldfield's fellow-antiquary, General Sir Hilgrove Turner, a former lieutenant-governor of Jersey, had published a short paper on Mont Orgueil in 1832 in which he described 'two chapels, or crypts, on different elevations, but formerly communicating, by means of a stair and gallery, now stopped with rubbish'.

And when awarded the custody of Mont Orgueil two years later, preparatory to opening the castle for the first time to the public, Hilgrove Turner began the programme of clearance and repair which enabled him to identify both 'crypts'. His first discovery, 'embedded in the masonry' of the Long Gallery or Guard Tower, was a Virgin and Child statue, probably 14th-century, which (wrote Le Gros) 'leads us to believe that the upper crypt is that of St Mary's Chapel' .

Then, while clearing the lower crypt in 1839-40, Hilgrove Turner found the coffins of two Tudor governors, Thomas Overay (d1500) and Anthony Ughtred (d1534), of whom Overay was recorded in the Elizabethan Chroniques to have been buried in the Chapel of St George.

For Hilgrove Turner, and for the great majority of his successors, the discovery of the two coffins was sufficient confirmation that St George's Chapel was located over the reconstructed 'crypt' in the Middle Ward.

Dr Rodwell, however, will have none of it. 'The two largest structures in the castle would not both have been chapels', he insists; 'added to which, their orientation is effectively north-south, and aspects of the designs and plans of both are demonstrably secular, not ecclesiastical.'

Oldfield too had noted the less-than¬-perfect orientation of both chapels: 'neither of the crypts runs east and west, but rather north¬east and south-west' And that may be one reason why he came to the conclusion that the upper chapel in reality was a hall. Yet he evidently had no problem with the near-identical orientation of the Chapel of St George.

And orientation by itself, as any ecclesiologist will confirm, has never been conclusive proof of church use. In Jersey, the big Chapelle de Ste Marie at Rozel Manor - the nearest contemporary parallel to its namesake at Mont Orgueil - is oriented well north of east, as is the town chuch of St Helier and the parish church of Grouville. And so common are those deviations - particularly (but not exclusively) on constricted sites - that it would never have occurred to a well-read antiquary like Nicolle to question an orientation long found acceptable by fellow scholars.

Among the visiting scholars who influenced Nicolle would have been the learned antiquaries of the Association Normande (1877) and of the Congres Archeologique de France (1883), none of whom had ever doubted the identity of the Chapel of St George.

And when the savants of the Congres declared themselves less than happy about St Mary's Chapel in the Keep - 'on pretend que c'etait une chapelle; rien ri'etablit cependant que cette partie de la forteresse ait jamais ete consacree au culte' - it is probable that their concern was not with the chapel's imperfect orientation but with the worryingly anachronistic hipped construction of its vault.

St Mary's Crypt

French experts

That worry was raised again by Louis des Forts and Philippe Regnier, invited over from France in August 1912 to endorse the works in progress at Mont Orgueil. 'They do not think', Nicolle noted, 'that roof of Chapel itself is very old, particularly on account of triangular ends east and west. They fancy walls of Chapel may have been lowered.

That oddly-shaped hipped vault - crudely constructed, almost straight-sided, and with 'triangular ends' - has yet to be found convincing parallels in medieval England or on the Continent.

And rather than the entire vault dating to the 14th century, as Dr Rodwell still assumes, it is more likely to have been a rebuilding of 1778 - 9, when the 'old church' was converted into a barrack-room.

But here is where the difficulties begin. No systematic analysis of the vault's rubble make-up has yet been made to determine whether it is of more than one build. And because contemporaries only rarely spell out what they are accustomed to take for granted, the documents in this case are of rather little help on the details we'd most like to know.

Thus when we hear for the first (and last) time of a 'chapel of St Mary in our castle of Jersey', it is only because the two castle chaplaincies were vacant simultaneously following the French raid of 1294.

There are regular references after that to 'the chapel' in the singular, and occasionally to 'chaplains' in the plural. But the first explicit mention of a 'Chapel of St George' occurs only as late as 1495, by which time a cult and annual pilgrimage had developed there.

St George's Chapel, we may assume, was in the Middle Ward. However, we also have a secure record of another chapel in the Keep - probably St Mary's - mentioned several times in the proceedings of the enquiry of 1463 into a plot to re-take the castle from the French.

Implicated in the conspiracy - along with the Seigneur of Rozel (Regnault Lempriere) and his English wife, Catherine Camel - was Thomas Le Hardy, Rector of St Martin. And it was the Rector, a regular visitor to the Keep, who had been given the task of obtaining the key of one of the castle's posterns for the English.

Nobody at the enquiry needed to be told where the chapel was. But Mont Orgueil had several posterns, and to avoid confusion, the enquiry was advised, towards its end, which of the posterns was at risk: namely 'Ia poterne de derriere la chappelle qui s'appelle la poterne de Rocheford'. That Rocheford postern still exists due north of the upper vault, which consequently locates St Mary's Chapel.

St George's Crypt

1921 publication

Nicolle, it seems, had yet to see this document when he published Mont Orgueil Castle in 1921. But he knew enough already, well before that date, to be confident of the vaulted room's identity. One of his notebooks at the Société contains transcripts of the documents he intended to publish in his history.

And it is there that we find him underlining - twice, for emphasis - Amyas Paulet's request of 1567 for 'fewer tonnes of lead for the covering of the platforme of the chappell conteyning in length xl foote and in bredthe xx foote'. Those measurements, Nicolle knew, matched St Mary's Chapel more exactly than any other building at Mont Orgueil. Furthermore, it was the Chapel of St Mary - not the Middle Ward's St George - which was to be shown with a lead roof in the Thomas Phillips plan of 1680. The connection was too obvious to miss.

Nicolle refers to another important document in his record of the antiquaries' visit in 1912. In discussing the upper vault, des Forts and Regnier had suggested that 'there was possibly a tower (round?) at east end and this may account for the oblong solid mass of masonry in the Crypt underneath.'

And it was against this suggestion that Nicolle later pencilled: 'Would this be Chappel Tower mentioned in 1562 manuscript?' His reference is to the Watch Instructions of 1562 - amended and improved until about 1600 - which had prescribed the daily sequence of gate-opening. And what Nicolle had picked up in these Instructions was the clear implication that the chapel and its bell-tower were neither in the Middle Ward nor where the belfry is today, but next to the highest gate (the last to be unlocked), for 'the Mountgate being opened, one of the Porters shall toll the bell in the Chapell tower, for knowledge to the house that the Mountgate is opened'.

It is likely that both chapels were still in use when Arthur Wake and Edmund Snape preached Calvinism to the Paulets in the late 16th century. Yet neither the Paulets (Hugh, Amyas or Anthony) nor their successors (Walter Raleigh and John Peyton) are known to have lived at the castle for any length of time. And in Peyton's day, with Elizabeth Castle fully built, even his lieutenant and chaplain-minister were non-resident.

That neglect of Mont Orgueil - known increasingly as 'the old castle' from the cessation of work there in the 1590s - would result by 1750 in the near-total collapse of much of the Tudor Keep and Middle Ward. Before that, references in Peyton's accounts of 1617 -19 to the purchase of slates 'to cover the howses and chapple of ye old castle' probably relate to the Chapel of St George; while the 'Governor's chappell' of 1634-7 must surely have been the Chapel of St Mary.

There were two Carteret weddings and a baptism at Mont Orgueil in 1640-2. But the chapels' secularization must have followed quite soon afterwards for their memory to have been lost so completely.

On a plan of Mont Orgueil in 1741, the big vaulted crypt in the Middle Ward is described only as 'Old Ruinous Vaults', while the name 'Old Chapel' is given instead to a much smaller rectangular building to its west.

Crypts ruined

Fourteen years later, both crypts were ruinous, and that same east-west building - recently dated archaeologically to the 1660s or 1670s - was to be described by Lieutenant Manson in 1755 as the 'Ruins of St George's Chapel', which it was not.

Manson found similarly creative labels for the Great Tower ('Somerset Tower') and the collapsed Great Chamber ('St George's Hall'), probably on the advice of a local antiquary familiar with the Chroniques de Jersey

But with the exception of the historically plausible 'Somerset Tower' - and then only much later after a silence of many decades - none of those names were to stick.

Col Oldfield, in the next century, also knew the Chroniques and had probably seen Manson's plan. But he makes no reference to the 'Somerset Tower', which he calls 'the Keep'; he says nothing of 'St George's Hall', which was roofless in his day and which he describes as 'the Court'; and he is clear that the ruinous vault in the Middle Ward was the crypt of the Chapel of St George.

All subsequent writers on Mont Orgueil (including Major Rybot) have taken that same view of St George's Chapel. And it is surely wayward of Dr Rodwell to place so much weight on an 18th-century source which antedated Hilgrove Turner's discovery of the coffins of the two governors, and is neither historically nor archaeologically secure.

Rybot based this reconstruction of the jonjon at Mont Orgueil on the massive rectangular keeps of 12th century England

Norman Rybot

So much for the Middle Ward. In the Keep, the problems are largely of Rybot's making.

In 1927, Rybot was still following his mentor's line on the siting of St Mary's Chapel. But Nicolle died on 15 August 1929, and within a year of his death, Rybot (the frustrated castle buff) had re-thought the Keep in the image of an Anglo-Norman fortress: ie square or rectangular, with accommodation on the first floor to which access was gained by a forebuilding.

Thus in a characteristically robust reconstruction of the post-1204 castle, Rybot pictures a massive central block ('the first great hall or keep'), with substantial towered extensions to north and south.

But there was none of that solidity in the thin-walled St Mary's Chapel, while the typical royal keep of early 13th-century France and England was neither square nor rectangular, but round or polygonal, as at Castle Cornet and probably also at Gorey.

Rybot himself never changed his mind. However, he did make one significant concession. 'Part of the Aula Castri', he wrote, 'may indeed have been retained for religious purposes, for the name of St Mary's Chapel has clung to the upper room'. It still clings there today with sufficient resonance for St Mary's Crypt to have been re-furnished with an altar.

Architectural arguments, particularly when self-standing, rely for their conviction on dated parallels. But there are still no known parallels for the 'medieval' hipped vault which had so troubled Nicolle's antiquaries in 1912.

And there are other serious anomalies in Rybot's 'hall'. It was Philip Dixon who once said in a moment of rare candour: 'I'm not happy with it as a hall because almost all of the medieval halls I can think of have social orientation, that is to say you come in at the lower end and you proceed to the other end . . . to think of this as the Medieval Great Hall would be fallacious, because it isn't: it's not the right size, it's too small, and it hasn't got social orientation.

And even Warwick Rodwell has felt obliged to admit that ‘the constraints of the site meant that this could not assume the usual layout of a medieval great hall, with the kitchen and service rooms at one end’.

So if the hall is not documented but a chapel it is; if it’s not the right size, and doesn’t conform anyway with the usual layout of a hall; if the vault is 18th century, and the building’s only convincing parallels are with the Island’s other churches; then the argument must swing in favour of St Mary’s Chapel; and it was Nicolle who got it right after all.

Personal tools
other Channel Islands
contact and contributions

Please support Jerripedia with a donation to our hosting costs