Friday, 3 February 2017

The Hole in the Wall

From "The Pilot", 1978 comes this interesting piece by local folklore historian, F. de L. Bois.

by F. de L. Bois

In the south wall of the South Chapel of Grouville Church, towards its eastern end, there is a recess whose purpose has given rise to much speculation. The recess is 580 mm wide and has a curved lintel, the highest point of which is about 725 mm above the sill. The sill is just above the level of the existing floor (between 60 and 70mm), but it is, of course, impossible to say what the level of the floor was when the recess was built.

The lintel appears to be carved from a single block of stone from the top of the curve to a third of the way down the back of the recess. The forward part is carved so that its base cants slightly outwards.

On the base is a face in relief, 215 mm high and 177 mm broad; the face shows eyes, nose and mouth and a circular depression in the middle of the forehead. The lintel at the rear of the forward part falls vertically for a depth of from 150 to 170 mm below which the rear of the recess stands open with a metal ventilator at the very back.

The ventilator is of a much later date than the recess itself, and I consider it reasonable to assume that the back of the recess was opened up to provide ventilation in this part of the church. Behind the sill is a hole about 550 mm deep at the foot of which there is dry powdery earth, the looseness of which, together with the fact that the dressed sides of the recess do not extend below the sill, lead me to believe that the hole results from one or more persons delving in an effort to discover the purpose of the recess.

The reasoning which follows is based on the assumption that the recess, when originally created, had a floor level with the sill and a back built in orderly fashion. An alternative explanation for the hole in the floor and the opening up of the back could be deliberate desecration, but I think this unlikely.


Books in my library led me to believe that the recess might be an Easter Sepulchre, but more was needed and I am grateful to a librarian at the Westminster Central Reference Library who could not have been more helpful; she literally surrounded me with books.

My investigations revealed slight divergences amongst authors, and as my purpose is not to write about Easter Sepulchres but to write about the Grouville Church recess.

I have had to make my own selection, but this selection such as it is does not in any way affect the outcome of my investigation. In any case, divergences are to be expected as we are covering a period of some 500 years.


The purpose of the Easter Sepulchre was for the re-enactment of the burial and resurrection of Jesus. On Good Friday, a consecrated wafer within a small receptacle, together with a cross, were placed within the Sepulchre where they were watched day and night until early on Easter Day when they were transferred to the High Altar. Three forms of Sepulchre seem to have been in use. By far the most common was a temporary structure of wood, but it could also be a permanent structure of masonry within a tomb, or specially constructed to accommodate the sacred elements during the Easter period.

The structural Easter Sepulchres do not appear to have come into use before the latter half of the 13th century and the majority belong to the late Decorated period. There are numerous cases of recesses on the floor level and instances are given of some even smaller than that at Grouville. There is a possibility that, at Easter, a wooden framework was set up in front of the recess and that the recess, of itself, represented the tomb.


All that has been said relates to churches in Great Britain where the recesses are to the north of the High Altar; one author says "usually"; most say or indicate "invariably". This rule, however, does not appear to apply on the Continent, for in a list of Sepulchres in German churches, about half are in other positions. The recess at Grouville was undoubtedly set up at a time when the Church in Jersey was in close communication with the Church on the Continent and the fact that it is to the south of the High Altar may therefore be of little significance.

Principal sources. Dictionary of Architecture, Vols. 7 & 8, under "Sepulchre" (London, 1887); J. C. Cox and Alfred Harvey, English Church Furniture (London, 1907); Francis Bond, The Chancel of English Churches (London, 1916); J. Charles Cox, English Church Fittings, Furniture and Accessories (London, 1923); G. H. Cook, The English Medieval Parish Church (London, 1956).

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