La Couperderie, St Peter Port, Guernsey, Channel Islands
One of Guernsey’s most architecturally and historically important churches, and the only church in the Channel Islands by the principal proponent and practitioner of the Gothic revival, A.W.N. Pugin. The exterior is an impressive and thoroughgoing essay in the Decorated Gothic style. The spire was added later, to the designs of Peter Paul Pugin. The interior decoration has been subject to substantial change but some fine detailing survives, including large parts of the painted timber ceiling.
Catholicism in Guernsey re-emerged slowly after the Reformation. Until the mid-nineteenth century a small chapel dedicated to St Mary was the only place on the Island where Mass was said. St Mary’s was located on the site of the current church of Notre Dame du Rosaire, on nearby Burnt Lane, and survived until 1962.
In 1845 Fr Eugene Connatty bought land on Cordier Hill in order to build a new church dedicated to St Joseph and St Mary. The foundation stone of the new church was laid on 21 May 1846 and the building was completed to the designs of the leading Victorian Gothic architect A.W.N. Pugin in July 1851. When the church was opened by Cardinal Wiseman in July 1851, lack of funds meant that it was ‘practically a shell’ (Lawrence). The main sanctuary had a stone altar and tabernacle, and its floor was covered with red carpet. According to historical information from the Diocesan Office archive, the font may be original. The Lady Chapel had its present altar of Caen stone but the Sacred Heart Chapel was completely bare. The congregation sat on rush-bottomed chairs.
St Mary’s old church was closed and efforts concentrated on fundraising to furnish the new church and pay off its debt. Stained glass windows by the Leveque workshop at Beauvais were installed between 1866 and 1868. The current pews were installed in 1882, and by 1883 the Sacred Heart chapel had an altar, tabernacle and reredos. St Joseph’s was consecrated on 27 August 1885 by Bishop Vertue, the first church to be consecrated by him in the new Diocese of Portsmouth.
The stencil-patterned wood ceiling, together with the walls of the sanctuary and side chapels, were painted in 1894 by Joseph Aloysius Pippet (1841-1903), a designer and decorator with Hardman, Powell & Company of Birmingham, who worked on other Pugin churches including St Augustine’s in Solihull. The roof panels of St Joseph and St Mary contain monograms and symbols of the Virgin Mary, Jesus and St Joseph. On the cornice below are the words of the Ave Maria. The roof and walls of the Lady Chapel were painted in 1895, also by Pippet.
In March 1899 work began on constructing a 70 foot spire on top of the church tower. The design was by Peter Paul Pugin, son of the original architect.
In 1901 the building’s gas lighting was replaced by electricity, installed by the Guernsey Electricity Supply company. In the same year a new organ was installed in the chancel. Extensive repairs to the larger organ gallery were undertaken in 1907 and 1925; a new organ eventually replaced it in 1938. Although this organ was damaged when the church was struck by lightening in 1959, it was subsequently rebuilt and enlarged by Walker Organs.
In 1906 new double oak doors were installed at the end of the north aisle, leading to the porch. Repairs to the exterior Caen stone dressings were completed in 1922-23. These were repaired again in 1948, and completely renewed in 1979. In 1933 the church walls and ceiling were cleaned and the stone arches, pillars, capitals and bases restored. Lawrence speculates that this is when the painted wall designs in the sanctuary and side chapels were lost.
Following the Second Vatican Council, the sanctuary was fitted out in 1971 with white carpets and a red and orange striped wooden screen (architects Williams & Winkley). Part of the roof was removed and replaced with glass. At the same time a high altar table of Guernsey granite with a marble top replaced an original reredos, canopy and altar by Mayer of Munich. The wooden screen was removed and the ceiling timbers restored during renovations in 1999.
The current presbytery, a Georgian villa called Ampthill House, was bought for £1,400 from the Guernsey Banking Company in 1887. Before this the resident priests lived in a small house nearby called Cordier Cottage, bought in the 1850s.
The church, in fourteenth century Decorated Gothic style, comprises a nave and two side aisles, with a slated triple roof and a northwest tower with later spire. The exterior walls are of local dark blue granite. The windows have surrounds, mullions and geometric tracery of Caen stone which Brett (1975) refers to as ‘extremely correctly detailed’. The 1899 broach spire is clad in green copper, with gabled lucarnes.
The interior of the church is 96 feet long and 60 feet wide. Internally, the side aisles are separated from the nave by Gothic arches supported by Caen stone pillars. At the east end, the central sanctuary and side chapels are divided from the nave by taller Gothic arches. Much of the Pippet’s painted ceiling survives; the nineteenth century wall decorations do not.
All the stained glass windows in the church are by the Leveque workshop at Beauvais, and were installed between 1866 and 1868. The east window depicts the death of St Joseph, the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt and the Holy Family at work. The panels, from left to right, show St Louis, St Patrick, St Joseph, St Charles Borromeo and St Michael the Archangel. The east window was restored by Bourget of St-Pierre-Eglise in 1990 and those in the side chapels by Abbey Stained Glass of Dublin in 1994-5.
Statues of St Mary and St Joseph carved by Georg Johann Lang in 1950 stand inside a screen at the west end of the church. Lang also carved the Stations of the Cross, which were later partly gilded. The nave floor has red and black tiles and Gothic wooden pews installed in 1882.
The forward stone altar dates from the 1971 reordering. The Gothic-style crucifix suspended above the sanctuary, and the two brass Victorian candlesticks either side of the altar, were installed in c. 1999 as part of works by Canon Gerard Hetherington.
North of the sanctuary, the former Sacred Heart Chapel (now the Blessed Sacrament Chapel) has an altar and reredos by the Le Mesurier brothers. The three stained glass windows depict themes on the Eucharist and images of St Teresa of Avila and St Margaret Mary Alacoque, a seventeenth century French visionary nun who promoted devotion to the Sacred Heart.
In the Lady Chapel, south of the sanctuary, the altar and reredos depict the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary in arcaded panels and encaustic floor tiles. The altar may be the work of Pugin, but his design for a Lady Chapel altar in St Joseph’s archives is not the one installed here. The reredos, installed in 1895 and painted by Pippet, was lowered in 1999 because it was thought to be obscuring the east chapel window. The windows feature the Virgin Mary and other biblical women, as well as St Ignatius Loyola.
The parish rooms, formerly the secondary school, is a handsome late-nineteenth or early-twentieth century stone building in Arts and Crafts style. The primary school is a modern building. A parish office was built in 1990, and is attached to the rear of the presbytery.
The church and presbytery are protected under the Ancient Monuments and Protected Buildings (Guernsey) Law (1962). In Guernsey there are no separate grades for protected buildings.
Architect: A.W.N. Pugin
Original Date: 1851
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Other