Huguenot History in the Strangest of Places
I often feel as if I am led to discover certain events, certain people, and even certain churches while embarking on my Reformation studies, and yesterday was no exception. I put the word “Huguenots” into YouTube to see if I could find any tours, informational videos, and the like. Instead I came across a lovely old church in Barnstaple, England called St. Anne’s Chapel. Like most of England’s old Protestant churches, it started life as a Catholic chapel, constructed in the 1400s. It was built as a chantry chapel.
King Henry VIII, at the start of the English Reformation, stifled such chapels and might have set the groundwork for St. Anne’s to be demolished. Yet the building persisted and became a school. Protestant history begins in earnest when French Huguenot immigrants were given permission to use the building as a house of worship. Nothing is known of how they might have felt over the idea of holding services in a chantry built for souls in purgatory, a teaching Calvinist Huguenots violently rebuffed.
St. Anne’s Chapel is one of those “must see someday” places. Located in Barnstaple in North Devon, it is, by appearance, exactly how one would expect a medieval English church to look. The small and blocky but well-accented brownstone structure can be reached by a side flight of steps that leads up into the building. The front of the church is of two sections, the left section with a medievalist three-arched window on bottom and a larger window on top, the right section with a few smaller windows.
Inside, the rounded ceiling and wooden medieval rafters are quite stunning and give testament to the chapel’s age. A handsome “mullioned” window done in the medieval style can be found at either end of the main room. The location of the former altar is probably where the Huguenots held their own services. These hardworking, ambitious silk-weavers, watch-makers, and silversmiths occupied the building from the late 1680s (when the Edict of Fontainebleau, destroying French Protestants’ rights, was published) to the early 1760s. As an added token of friendship, they were not pressed to worship in English, but rather were permitted to pray in the French fashion in their own language.
I saw an intriguing, creative documentary on YouTube that showed many rooms of St. Anne’s Chapel. The cellar, which may have been a charnel-house to store human bones when the cemetery was overrun, showed its age particularly well, still having many wooden medieval rafters and a very simple, whitewashed interior. Old tombstones were once used to patch walkways and various other exterior features of the chapel and can still be seen today. To recap, this old Catholic chapel, used as a chantry for a century, became a haven for Huguenots. Once again I am reminded that the Lord works in mysterious ways!
(c) 2012 Joyously Saved