Chronology of Catholic Dioceses:Notes on the Channel Islands

"All through the Middle Ages the Channel Islands formed part of the French Diocese of Coutances. On 28th October 1496 King Henry VII, the first of the Tudors, requested Pope Alexander VI to transfer them to Salisbury. Three years later he asked to have them transferred to the Diocese of Winchester. The Pope did as Henry asked - but the Pope's Bull had no effect. Right up to the reign of Elizabeth I the Bishop of Coutances exercised jurisdiction over the Islands. In 1569 the then Bishop of Coutances was on a diplomatic mission in London. He complained that the dues from the Island's Deaneries were not forthcoming. The Privy Council unearthed the Bull and the Royal Letter of 1499; an order in Council of 11th March 1569 executed the separation of the Islands from the Diocese of Coutances and placed them under the jurisdiction of the Anglican Bishop of Winchester - but once again the Order had no effect. The authority of the Bishop of Winchester was completely ignored owing to the fact that Presbyterian discipline and church government were firmly established in the Islands. It was, in fact, 1818 before the Anglican form of Confirmation was administered for the first time by Dr. Fisher, Bishop of Salisbury, as the Bishop of Winchester was not well enough to do so. The Islands then had to wait until 1829 to receive the first episcopal visitation from their Anglican Bishop, Dr Sumner of Winchester.

When the Catholic church in England was placed by Rome under the care of Vicars Apostolic, the Channel Islands were looked after by the Vicar Apostolic of the London District (although it is not clear if they were ever formally included in the territory of his jurisdiction). Bishop Douglas who was Vicar Apostolic from 1790 to 1812 appointed in 1807 Fr Charles de Grimouville, an English speaking priest in charge in Jersey, as Vicar General for Catholic Administration in the Channel Islands; in 1817 he was nominated Bishop of St Malo but died the same year before being consecrated. The post of Vicar General does not appear to be continued.

In Pius IX's Letters Apostolic restoring the English Hierarchy in 1850, 'the islands of Jersey, Guernsey and other adjacent' are included under the Diocese of Southwark. When Southwark was divided by the Letters Apostolic of Pope Leo XIII in 1882, the new Diocese of Portsmouth contained 'those islands in the English Channel (seu le Manche) appertaining to the English Crown'. During the Second World War the Church in the Channel Islands was completely cut-off from the rest of the Diocese due to the German Occupation of the Islands, Bishop King (then Bishop of Portsmouth) solved the problem of administering this part of the Diocese by appointing Canon Hickey, Parish Priest of St Joseph's, Guernsey, as his Vicar General for the Channel Islands. This fact was made known to Guernsey seemingly through Ireland and the Vichy government, but it appears that news of it did not reach Jersey until after the war."
(Diocese of Portsmouth: Past and Present - Gerard Dwyer 1981)

A further insight is gained from the history of the Priory of Blanchelande in Guernsey. This was a dependent Priory of Blanchelande Abbey - the Norbertines - in Normandy.

"King John attempted to attach the Channel Islands to the See of Exeter. That effort failed, but in 1399 King Henry IV had transferred the Islands to the See of Nantes, and in 1415 Henry V had declared that since he had conquered France, all alien Priories were now the property of the Crown, no longer that of their original French Bishops. None of all these pronouncements seriously affected the allegiance of the Islands to the See of Coutances, and to it they remained faithful until the dark days of 1536."
(Blanchelande in Guernsey - 1960)

At the present time the Channel Islands are in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portsmouth and the Anglican Diocese of Winchester. Both Jersey and Guernsey have Anglican Deans and, I think, I am right in commenting that Jersey is or was until recent times a 'Royal Peculiar'.

The Roman Catholic faith was suppressed in England, Wales and the whole of Ireland by the Elizabethan Religious Settlement of 1559. Scotland took its own course. Subsequently each country followed a different path in terms of ecclesiastical jurisdiction. The following only applies to England & Wales.

In 1581 the Pope appointed Cardinal William Allen as Prefect of the English Mission. In 1599 The Pope appointed An Archpriest, resident in England, to govern the Diocesan Clergy. However, in 1623 the Pope appointed a Bishop with a Titular See as Vicar Apostolic in England and Wales. In 1688 England was divided into four Districts each with a Bishop as Vicar Apostolic. This was increased to eight in 1840. The severe penalties against Roman Catholics were eased over the years resulting in the First Catholic Relief Act of 1778 and the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829. This allowed Pius IX to issue the Letters Apostolic 'Universalis Ecclesiae' on 29th September 1850 restoring catholic Dioceses to England & Wales


The Channel Islands gave refuge to many exiles from the French Revolution and again at the end of the nineteenth century to religious expelled from France. This has a history of its own. Notre Dame du Rosaire has been mentioned in Guernsey as the oldest Parish, but this is not strictly true. There were strictly speaking no Parishes in England & Wales until the Code of Canon Law 1917. Both in Jersey and Guernsey a French mission commenced around 1790. The Jersey Mission became the Church of St Thomas and the Guernsey Mission became the Church of St Mary which was demolished in 1960 and on the same site a new Church built in honour of Notre Dame du Rosaire. Both these Churches grew to serve the French communities on both Islands especially with the growth of an English speaking community in the early nineteen hundreds. Neither were ever formally Parishes but rather for the French speaking community. In 1999 the last French priest left Jersey and St Thomas was united with St Mary & St Peter. Notre Dame du Rosaire still has a French priest, Canon Maurice Lecluze, who is a priest of the Coutances Diocese.

All of the above: Information provided in October 2000 by Msgr. Richard Hind, Chancellor, diocese of Portsmouth

Until the reign of Henry VIII, Jersey and the other channel islands were part of the Diocese of Coutances. This did not take place exactly at the same time as the 1533 and 1535 measures breaking with Rome, but a few years later, causing some administrative untidiness with respect to letters dimissory, etc etc. The islands were then made part of the Diocese of Winchester and are now part of the (Anglican) Church of England Diocese of Portsmouth, although with a separate Dean. There was discussion of erecting a Church of England Diocese of Saint Helier in the later part of Queen Victoria's reign, but this foundered on whether or not it would be in England or not (as the Channel Islands are technically not part of England, but are in the Duchy of Normandy).

According to the website, the islands are now part of the RC Diocese of Portsmouth, and the oldest parish appears to be the 1792 Notre Dame du Rosaire in Saint Peter Port.

How to reflect these facts in the chronology, is tricky: 1) since we don't have the precise date of transfer from Coutances to Winchester, and 2) since it was likely done by either measure of Convocation (the ancient ecclesiastical assembly) or order of the Privy Council, neither of which was ratified by Rome (therefore irrelevant to determining RC jurisdiction), we have a choice of:
I) in effect, Jersey & Guernsey becoming dependent on the pastoral supervision of the Vicars Apostolic from the dates of their establishment, or
II) more strictly in law, the Channel Islands continuing to be part of Coutances until the concordat with Napoleon, which fact, coupled with the de facto jurisdiction of the Vicar Apostolic for the London or the Western District over the RC parishes being established from the 1790s, made the jurisdiction of Coutances moot and quite irrelevant.
III) However, if, during the Marian restoration in England (1552-1559), the again-in-communion-with-Rome Bishop of Winchester exercised jurisdiction in the Islands, then we can probably count them as part of Winchester for the table's purposes.

Option (III) may be the most logical answer to all of this, but the absence of a proper transfer does create a problem. Or, rather, our not knowing of the transfer creates a problem.

- Information from Mr. Austin Cooke (October 2000)

- CT

av Webmaster publisert 09.09.2004, sist endret 09.09.2004 - 15:11