Building » St Sampson – Our Lady Star of the Sea

St Sampson – Our Lady Star of the Sea

Rue des Monts, Delancey, Guernsey, Channel Islands

The church is a simple but attractive and well-built late nineteenth century Gothic church. Together with the former school, its granite and cream-painted exterior forms a distinctive group, and the small scale of both buildings provide a vernacular flavour. There is an interesting historical link between the birth of the church and parish, and the influx of Irish workers in the wake of the potato famine. 

A large number of Irish families settled in Guernsey following the potato famine in the mid-nineteenth century, attracted by the promise of work in the Island’s granite mines. The Irish community settled in the current parishes of St Sampson and St Michel du Valle, but with no church or school to cater for their needs, many walked the four miles to St Joseph’s church at St Peter Port to attend Mass.

In 1877 a Guernsey priest named Father Foran, in conversation with a local bricklayer, found out that the land where the present church stands was for sale. The diocese subsequently bought the land – then consisting of a cottage and a field – and in 1878 a local (unnamed) architect drew up a plan for a new church. The foundation stone was laid at the end of the year, with local Catholics forming the building party. On 26 September 1879 the chapel of Our Lady Star of the Sea was opened.

The 1879 building forms only part of the present church (from the current entrance porch to the sanctuary). The original church was used as a school during the week, when the sanctuary was closed off with a curtain and the nave divided into two classrooms. A fireplace set into the south wall of the church testifies to this original, dual use.

When the church first opened it had no permanent priest and Mass was said only infrequently until 1880, when a priest based at St Joseph’s in St Peter Port was appointed. The church was served from St Joseph’s until 1897, when Canon Franklin, a retired priest from Liverpool archdiocese, came to Guernsey and bought a large house opposite the school called Delancey Villa1

. This late Victorian brick house became the presbytery, and enabled Father Franklin to personally oversee the running of the church until 1899.

According to the Diocese of Portsmouth Database, unspecified additions were made to the church during Father Franklin’s tenure. These alterations may have included the large building erected at right angles to the church, east of the sanctuary, which housed the enlarged school. Alternatively, the school building may have been added (as the Diocese of Portsmouth Database reports) much sooner after the completion of the original church in 1879. A smaller building to house an infants’ school was erected to the south of the church, but it was destroyed by fire in 1910.

In 1935 a subscription was raised to enlarge the church and schools, which had become too small for the growing population. This appears to have been postponed until 1952, when the church was enlarged to twice its original size. The school was closed from 1940 until 1945, during the German occupation of the Island. In the 1960s the enlarged church was reordered to conform to the new liturgy.

From the beginning of the twentieth century until the 1950s, when it became a parish in its own right, the church was again served by St Joseph’s in St Peter Port. Since 1972 the church has been served by the Sacred Heart fathers.

In the 1970s work began on a new primary school beside the former presbytery, opposite the church. Financial problems halted progress, however, and St Mary and St Michael primary school was not completed until 1992. A new infants’ school was opened nearby in 1982. The nineteenth century school – beside the church – is now used as a parish centre.

The church consists of an unaisled, rectangular nave, eight bays long. This is attached at the east end to the parish centre (the nineteenth century school) via a three-bay, single-storey link. The parish centre is at right angles to the church, with its gable end facing the road. The gable is topped by a little gabled bellcote. The exterior of much of the church, school and linking building is faced in dark Guernsey granite, with window surrounds painted in contrasting cream. Quoins and simple buttresses are also painted cream. The 1950s church extension, including the last three bays of the present nave and the gabled west end, is rendered and painted. The windows of the long north side of the church are (mostly) paired, with simple, cusped heads. The west window is more ornate, with three-light cusped windows set in a recessed Gothic arch. There are no windows in the south or east walls of the church. A single-storey porch protrudes from the fifth bay of the north wall, providing the main entrance for church services. The roofs of the church, porch, former school and linking building are covered in new (or imitation) slate.

Inside the church, the walls are rendered, painted and unadorned apart from carved, wooden Stations of the Cross. Ten new windows were installed in the north wall of the nave in 1994, replacing original windows which had apparently deteriorated beyond repair. The new, leaded windows are of clear glass, with traditional stained glass crosses in the centre and borders of stained glass. They were made by the Abbey Stained Glass Studios in Dublin; the long-term plan is to replace all the church windows with new glass from the same workshop. The roof is of timber construction, with collar beams supported by braces resting on wall brackets. The organ, at the northwest end of the nave, was presented in July 1916 by ‘a number of friends assisted by a generous gift from the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust’. It must have been moved here when the nave was extended in the 1950s. The nave is carpeted and has wooden pews. The altar, in the sanctuary, dates from the 1960s.

The original windows and door of the linking building and the former school have been replaced with PVC-u. A nineteenth century cottage east of the former school also belongs to the church. This is a painted brick building whose windows and door have been replaced with PVC-u.

The nineteenth century presbytery is a red brick Victorian villa with sash windows, stone dressings and door case, and wrought iron railings and gates. 

Heritage Details

Architect: Unknown

Original Date: 1879

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Not Listed