A History of St Peter's Church

The Reformed Church of the first Jersey Settlers
The church dates from 1820. For 250 years following the re- colonisation of Sark in 1565 the islanders worshipped in a long,  narrow, barn-like building, thatched and with an earthen floor.  Its bare simplicity suited the first Presbyterian settlers  with their strict reformed 'discipline' enforced by the Elders, their dislike of  ritual, and their emphasis on sermons. Their so-called 'temple'  was part of the Seigneur's manor; it forms the central part of the  eastern range of cottages at the present Manoir, which also housed the island's school-cum-courtroom and meeting place, and probably the schoomaster's quarters. In the yard outside were the bench for public penance and the stocks.

Anglicanism in Sark
With the Restoration of the English Crown after the Commonwealth, and following the death of Sark's legendary minister Elie Brevint, in 1675 the island was brought reluctantly into conformity with the Anglican rite. The restored De Carteret  Seigneur donated a chalice and plate for communion. However, under the Le Pelley Seigneurs (1730-1852) Sark's ministers continued to be French or Swiss Calvinists. They were appointed by the Seigneur as his chaplains and mostly at his expense. (It was not until 1934 that Sark became a vicariate.) By the time of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, popular hostility to 'feudal' institutions had undermined the authority of Seigneur and Minister. Church attendance had lapsed and the tavern stayed open most of the sabbath. Working people in Sark looked to the Methodists for moral  leadership and in 1796 a Methodist Chapel costing  £300 was built at La Ville Roussel. The project of a Sark Parish Church was conceived as a means of re-establishing the authority of Anglicanism in Sark.

Raising the money for a church: the pew scheme
The cost of building this 'church or chapel' came to about £1000 and was shared between the Seigneur, who also gave the plot out of his manorial lands; the tenants, who subscribed for pews in the new building; and the Society for Promoting the Enlargement and Building of Churches and Chapels. Seigneur Peter Le Pelley's ingenious scheme of offering each of his forty tenants a closed family pew, to be attached for ever to their tenement, secured nearly £300 before building began and ensured a perpetual income of rent (now miniscule) for upkeep of the church. A condition of the Society's assistance was that at least half the total of 333 seats were to be 'open' to the public. The Seigneur did not live to see his plan fulfilled and it was his son Peter Le Pelley III who laid the foundation stone in spring of 1820.

Building the church
By midsummer 1821 a plain rectangular building (the present nave) was complete; it measures 68 ft by 35 ft, and is 20 ft high at the  eaves. The East wall (demolished in 1877 to build the chancel) had two arched windows and a 'round' above, matching the West end. The original square tower was quite small and housed the 'island bell'. This ancient bell, given to the settlers in 1581 by Philippe De Carteret, future Seigneur, used to hang from a wooden belfry on a mound in the Clos de la Tour de la Cloche, to the East of the site. Sark workmen dug the church's foundations built the walls 2ft 6in thick, using cartloads of slatey schistic  stone hauled up from Port du Moulin and granite quarried on l'Eperquerie. Guernsey granite quoins brought over from a quarry at l'Ancresse mark each 12-inch course. Purbeck flagstones shipped from Swanage were laid to make the pavement. Carpentry work - framing the fir roof beams and rafters, fixing laths to bear glazed tiles and support the ceiling of hair-and-lime plaster - was planned by Jean Tardif of Jersey and executed by Guernsey carpenters. On 7 August 1821 the Bishop of Winchester licenced 'the new erected chapel', 'according to the rites and ceremonies of the Church of England'. It was not until 1829 that the Bishop finally crossed the sea to consecrate 'Saint Peter's'. Sark's church bears the name of the patron apostle of its two patron Seigneurs.

The interior of the original church
Inside, the original church the East end was dominated by the pulpit: an octagonal stall centrally placed between the two arched windows, it stood on a platform six feet above the pavement. A staircase led up to it from the minister's pew in the Southeast corner (where the organ now is).  Below the pulpit and three feet above the pavement were square stalls with desks for the clerk ('greffe') and the reader ('lecteur') who made public  proclamations. To the left, on a six-inch wooden stage, stood a  small, plain wooden communion table, enclosed by a wooden rail 8ft 6in by 5ft.

Victorian alterations: chancel and tower
In Victorian times provision of a harmonium in the corner beside the minister's pew attracted some Sarkese to church, according to the Reverend JLV Cachemaille. The Seigneur, Reverend William T Collings, whose mother bought the Fief of Sark in 1852, was himself in holy orders; he also had a keen interest in Victorian church architecture and a smattering of Pre-Raphaelite taste. In 1877, the year of Cachemaille's death, Seigneur Collings designed and paid L.200 for the complete rebuilding of the East end, to make a comparatively ornate chancel with choir, sanctuary, altar steps, and vestry. The style and building materials are eclectic: quoins, archstones and cills are in the 'grey and red' Guernsey granite, matching the extensions which Collings had earlier made to La Seigneurie. Inside there is prominent use of pebble panels and of Guernsey-made brick for 'romanesque' window arches; stained glass was introduced. The original high-backed public benches were replaced and new stalls were added for a choir.

The bell
By 1883 the raising of the tower was complete, again using much dark grey Guernsey granite, and the belfry strengthened. A new bell was cast from 'two old six-pounders', brass canon which had provided Sark's defence since Elizabethan times. The old 'island bell' of 1581 was returned to secular use in the School, now the Assembly Room, which houses the Seneschal’s Court and meetings of Chief Pleas.

The present pulpit was installed in 1883 in memory of the Reverend JLV Cachemaille, and the brass eagle lectern in 1896 in memory of his successor Charles Vermeil. Four stained glass windows commemorating Sark men fallen in the Great War of 1914-1918 were installed in the nave in 1926 at the cost of various benefactors. Then in 1934, when Sark finally became a vicariate, two further windows were installed at the west end, one picturing sixth-century Saint Magloire, who is credited with bringing Christianity in Sark in 565 AD. Extra choir stalls and tapestried kneelers were made by Sark residents towards the end of the twentieth century.

RPA 1991 rev. 2010