St Helier miracle

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This article by Norman Rybot was first published in the 1958 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

Among the masses of rock and solitary outcrops which existed or still exist in many parts of the island were, or are, some which owing to their shape, markings, or colour, inspired fear or veneration in the minds of the primitive inhabitants of Jersey.

The St Helier legend

For instance, there was La Roche Godeine (La Rogodaine), which dominated the flat land under the eastern slopes of Verclut: the Herquantin rock at Le Hocq : the Witches' Rock at Samarès, a haunt of abiding evil: the Chapel Rock at Havre des Pas, destroyed in 1814: the huge Hermitage Rock, which was said to be stained with the blood of Saint Helier: and the mighty Pinnacle Rock at L'Etacq, where a Fane had been set up in the Iron Age.

Havre des Pas

But of all these, I am concerned at the moment only with the rock and chapel at the Haven of the Footprints.

The simple folk of ancient days, trusting in the recondite knowledge of their spiritual pastors and masters, were induced to believe that the mysterious impressions in the rock
The Chapel in 1776
marked the place where the Blessed Helier had committed his first local miracle after landing from the little port of Genest in Normandy and had cured there the lame Anketil. "For the marks are there unto this day", or rather were there until they were destroyed with their rock by the Sappers.

Nor was the faith of the equally simple folk of later times shaken when their priests told them that these marks had really been made by the Blessed Damosel herself and not by the unwholesome Anketil.

So when a chapel was built on the rock in the 12th or 13th century, it was named Chapelle de Notre Dame des Pas, and continued to be known as such during the next five or six hundred years.

Writing in 1682, Lieut-Bailiff Jean Poingdestre says that Havre des Pas was so called "from a Tradition of ye footsteps of ye blessed Virgin seene thereabouts, in an apparition of hers".

Lastly, when Fort Regent was built, the Sappers, being warriors "to whom nothing is sacred", completely demolished both the Chapel and its work, having found that they obstructed the field of fire from some of their works.

Thus was destroyed a sanctuary which might have become a Place of Pilgrimage out-rivalling even the Holy Grot of Lourdes.

This act of Vandalism fitly illustrates an age when the material was ousting the spiritual, when anyone who wished to learn the truth about rocks began to consult geologists rather than priests. Nevertheless, it is only fair to state that it was a Jesuit priest who composed the first scientific book on the Geology of Jersey and formed the admirable collection of rock-specimens still exhibited in our Museum.

The site of the Chapel of Notre Dame des Pas lies a little beyond the north end of the old Married Quarters at the foot of Green Street; but as large and ancient exposed surfaces of coarse granite on that spot have not survived the shattering of 1814, it is not now possible to estimate the effect of weathering on the rock, or to agree that the builders of the Chapel were justified in recognising as footprints the impressions in the rock.

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