Unusual Little Chapel Built with Glass and Broken Pottery Destroyed Many Times Over – But Still Stands!
A surprising and secluded chapel – with glittering mosaics on every surface creating a fairytale quality – lies hidden in verdant, wooded hills in St. Andrew, a parish on the island of Guernsey, a Crown dependency in the English Channel. But this tiny, tucked-away chapel has a big history, filled with artistic vision, a devotion to faith, the fury of rejection and destruction, and continuous rebirth.
Small size didn’t constrain the chapel - each time it was knocked down, it got back up again, and is now considered the smallest functioning chapel in Europe, if not the world!
Passionate Creation and Destruction
The story of the Little Chapel begins with the arrival of Brother Déodat Antoine, a French De La Salle Brother, on the island in December 1913. When Déodat first saw the wooded slope of Les Vauxbelets in St. Andrew, he was inspired to build a miniature version of the grotto and basilica at Lourdes, a well-known pilgrimage site in the southwest of France.
The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, commonly known as the Upper Basilica, Lourdes. ( Public Domain )
The famous statue of Our Lady of Lourdes in the Grotto ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
This tiny chapel, however, received the scathing criticism of the other brothers, and Déodat decided to have it demolished.
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Nevertheless, Déodat did not give up, and he soon began work on the second Little Chapel. This was completed and officially blessed in July 1914. This chapel could accommodate up to four people, and in September 1923, it was graced by a visit of the Bishop of Portsmouth. Unfortunately, this was also the cause of the second chapel’s destruction. As the bishop was not able to fit through the door due to his large size, Déodat decided to tear this chapel down in the same month.
The Little Chapel today. (Jeremy Oakley/ CC BY 2.0 )
Picking up the Pieces
The brother then set out on the task of creating a third Little Chapel. Every day, Déodat would collect pebbles and china sherds to decorate his chapel. An illustrated article published in the Daily Mirror brought to light Déodat’s work, and as a consequence made the Little Chapel famous. The inhabitants of Guernsey began to bring broken china to the brother to aid his work, and the Lieutenant Governor of Guernsey even chipped in by donating a mother of pearl to decorate the chapel! Gifts were sent from all over the world.
Little Chapel altar, Saint Andrew, Guernsey. (Dave Paterson/ CC BY 2.0 )
Detail from the chapel ceiling. (Dave Paterson/ CC BY 2.0 )
War and Duty
Unfortunately, as the Little Chapel neared completion, the Second World War broke out. Then, in 1939, Déodat had to return to France, as a consequence of his ill health. The brother died there before his chapel was completed. Following Déodat’s death, the work of decorating the chapel was handed over to Brother Cephas, who faithfully carried out the duty given to him until his retirement in 1965.
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Incredible numbers of tiny glass and pottery pieces have gone into the decoration of the chapel ( Public Domain )
In the years that followed Cephas’ retirement, the Little Chapel was not properly maintained. Finally, in 1977, a Committee charged with the restoration of the Little Chapel was set up. To ensure that the Little Chapel would be preserved in the years to come, it was placed under the care of the Blanchelande College Trustees. Investigations by the Trust in 2014 revealed that cracks were appearing in the structure and that the Little Chapel was in dire need of serious restoration work. A fund-raising campaign was launched to cover the cost of these works. For 18 months, the Little Chapel was surrounded by scaffolding to allow workmen to carry out the restoration and was closed to the public during this period.
Little Chapel interior, with stairs (Dave Paterson/ CC BY 2.0 )
Rebirth of the Little Chapel
As a result of this, the foundations of the structure, which had become unsound, were underpinned, and properly secured. New lighting was also installed within the chapel to illuminate its interior. Moreover, floodlighting outside the chapel now lends it an extra glow when the sun sets. Still, there is much more to be done. For example, the 1970s flooring needs to be removed and replaced in accordance with the original design of the chapel. Finally, in 2016, the Little Chapel Foundation was established, and the chapel was gifted to it by the De La Salle Brothers. The foundation has placed the chapel in trust for the community of Guernsey, which means that the Islanders are now the owners of the Little Chapel.