The Forest Church stands on the high plateau of the south of the island. The cluster of houses known as Le Bourg probably grew up around the church ratl1er than the church being built to serve an existing village. The first part to be built was the southeast corner and incorporates massive stones that were once part of a dohnen.
The church itself consists essentially of two parts; a 13′” century nave, central tower with spire and chancel, and a fifteenth century north aisle. The simple arcading which divides the interior of the church is thought to be constructed of Chausey Island stone which, being softer than the granite, was capable of being carved.
The original entrance to the church was on the south side.
THE DEDICATION OF FOREST PARISH CHURCH
Originally the Forest Parish Church was dedicated to ‘The Holy Trinity’ . It is known by this name in all the old manuscripts and the parish douzaine coat of arms still carries the symbol of the Trinity. Legend has it that at some time a Sir Phillip de Careret of Jersey and his wife Marguerite were shipwrecked off Pleimont point. In thanksgiving for their rescue by men of Forest and Torteval they gave a generous endowment to the churches which were then rededicated in their honour to saints of the same name (St. Phillippe de Torteval was originally Notre Dame de Torteval). It is not known how much truth there is in this story. It is however known that at one time the de Carterets of Jersey were trying to extend their influence in Guernsey and they may have instigated ilie change of name to assert their rights over the two parishes.
Whatever the truth of the matter, Forest Church is now dedicated to Ste Marguerite (or St Margaret) of Antioch.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE PARISH CHURCH OF STE MARGUERITE DE LA FORET
There has been a church on this site for a very long time, certainly since before 1048 when it is mentioned in a Royal Charter. Long before that, there-is evidence that this was an important Pagan shrine. At the time of the above charter the church was in the possession of the Abbey of Moutiers in France. The present structure is not as early as this, although parts of the masonry in the southeast corner of the church behind the organ may date from this period.
The church as it stands today is the smallest Parish church in Guernsey. It is not easy to date it, as, like most Guernsey churches, the architecture is unlike that of contemporary French or English ones; most of them are similar to the early Celtic churches of Brittany, Ireland and West Wales. We do know that it was built in stages over several hundred years from the 11th century on wards. The east end of the South aisle, where the organ now stand s, was built first, then the central Bell tower which is typical of Guernsey churches in its architecture and construction. The original door to the church was where the vestries now stand and was approached through a covered porch with seats either side. As the congregation increased the church was expanded by the addition of the North aisle which is now the main bod y of the church. It was completed during the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.
At one time there was a small gallery at the back of the church with a room underneath in which the Douzaine (the Civil Authority for the Parish) met. The old chimney for the room’s fireplace is still in the wall although no evidence of it can now be seen. The top opening is covered by one of the crosses on the peak of the church roof which is a relatively recent addition (1930’s). The present interior is the result of a re-ordering carried out in 1891 when the floor of the nave was lowered by18 inches (notice the marks on the pillar by the lectern) and the old box pews, which were rotten, replaced with the present pine ones. At the same time the altar was moved from the north to the south aisle. This re-ordering was the work of Rev. E.F.P.Colman, who also gave the vestries to the church in 1922, almost at the end of his long service as Rector. These vestries replaced the old South Porch and the North door then became the main entrance. Before this it was known as the women’s door.
Most notable of the small architectural features is the ancient Piscina in the East wall by the main altar, where the bread and wine, where the bread and wine are placed prior to a Communion service.
Outside note the church tower which is typical of Guernsey churches with the four small pinnacles at the base of the spire. The church clock dates from 1897; it is a memorial to Queen Victoria’s Jubilee.
The lovely gilded weathercock is the work of a local craftsman and replaced an older one which had become unserviceable. This is now in the possession of the Douzaine. Legend has it that it suffered from being used for target practice by the German troops billeted in the Rectory during the occupation. Also outside note the Lych Gate which is a memorial to the men of the Parish who died in the two world wars. It replaced a pair of wrought iron gates which were surmounted by an arch of similar construction supporting an electric lantern.
The tower originally contained a ring of four bells dating from 1648 onwards, which were recast and rehung in 1984/ 85 in a new bell frame with two further bells to give the present ring of six. The work was partly financed by the ratepayers who are responsible for structural repairs to the church and thus for the maintenance of the existing bells; but the money for the additional bells and frame was raised by public subscription. This valuable addition to the building is largely due to the enthusiasm of the bell captain and then People’s Warden, Peter Gallienne.
At the same time the font was repositioned in its present location. It was formerly at the rear of the church where the outline of the base can just be seen on the wood block flooring.
Our overseas visitors may not be aware that the ancient Parish Churches of Guernsey do not belong to the Church but to the civil parishes, or perhaps their ratepayers who hold the properties on behalf of the Queen. This is a reminder of the time-when the Bailiwick of Guernsey was the feudal possession of the Duke of Normandy, whose successor our present Queen is. True Guernseymen hotly deny that these islands belong to or are part of the U.K; rather they claim, not entirely tongue in cheek, that since 1066 England has belonged to Guernsey since this is the sole remaining part of the Duchy of Normandy still under the English Crown.
Noteworthy are the old musical instruments in a display cabinet on the wall to the left of the main door. These are: –
One clarinet in B flat with six brass keys. Two flutes with a single key. One flageolet with one key; the top tone hole of this has been plugged to raise the pitch (key now D major?) One piccolo with five keys and one cross touch.
Such instruments as these were generally used in parish churches to provide the music before organs came into general use. (See Thomas Hard y’s novel, Under the Greenwood Tree).
THE CHURCH WINDOWS
One of the peculiarities of Forest Church is that no two window openings are the same. The stone work shows that some of them have been rebuilt and changed in shape over the years, but there is no record of when or why this w s done. The present stained glass dates from the restoration of the church in 1891 or later.
The two windows over the altar represent Ste Marguerite of Antioch. Legend has it that she was the daughter of a pagan priest at Antioch in Pisidia; in Greece she is also known as Marina. She was converted to Christianity by her nurse and therefore she was disowned by her family and turned out of her home. She then became a shepherdess in the surrounding countryside. Her great beauty brought her to the notice of the local Roman Prefect, Olybrius, who proposed to her. However when she rejected his advances, he denounced her to the authorities, and had her arrested and tortured in an attempt to change her mind. She was eventually martyred by beheading. During her captivity she is supposed to have been swallowed by the devil in the form of a dragon. He was however, unable to digest her and spat her out. It is most likely that this myth is a poetic reference to her resisting the temptation to renounce her faith whilst under torture. The windows show her first as a shepherdess and secondly with a martyrs crown and pahn, overcoming the dragon
The other East window contains symbols of our Lord, first Alpha and Omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, and also IHS being the initial letters of the Latin words for Jesus Saviour of Men. The remaining windows contain symbols of our Lord or of the apostles. Proceeding clockwise from the organ, first we have a saw for Simon the brother of Jude; by the font there are references to our Lords passion – a Roman soldier’s sword, the tlurty pieces of silver, the lash and the pillar to which a victim was tied for scourging. The next small window shows a halberd for St. Jude.
Then we come to more emblems of Jesus’s suffering – the crown of thorns, the cross, the spear, and the sponge of vinegar on a reed. Then there are the symbols of St Peter and St. Andrew, the keys of heaven and hell for St. Peter and the diagonal cross for St. Andrew. The other rear window contains symbols of St. Bamabus and St. Paul. The purse and the spear in the next window are the official marks of authority of St. Matthew the tax collector whilst the other half contains the axe of St. Matthias. Next come the spear and carpenters square of St. Thomas the patron saint of architects; alongside these are the wallet, staff and shell of St. James the Great. Proceeding towards the altar we come to the knife which represents St. Bartholomew. Then there is a club for St. James the Less. The side window of the sanctuary has a cross for St. Phillip and lastly a cup with a winged serpent for St. John the Evangelist. This brings us back to the altar windows.