Corners of France are forever England

France is home to more than 10 purpose-built Anglican churches. The Connexion discovers more about some of them

29 January 2020
St Bartholomew’s Church, in Dinard
By Jane Hanks

Most of France’s Anglican churches were built in the late 19th Century.

This was when strong British communities developed in towns as far apart as Lille, in the north, Dinard in Brittany, Pau and Vernet-les-Bains in the Pyrénées, and Nice and Menton on the Mediterranean.

Christ Church in Lille is planning its 150th anniversary this year and last year Vernet-les-Bains became the first French church to have bells capable of English change-ringing.

St Bartholomew’s Church, in Dinard, Ille-et-Vilaine, recently welcomed a new chaplain, the Rev Gary Wilton, who is delighted with his new parish.

St Bartholomew’s Church, in Dinard,has a new chaplain, the Rev Gary Wilton, with wife Gillian

“It is a picture-perfect English country church,” he said.

“We have a thriving congregation, with about 60 at our weekly Sunday service, which is bigger than the Church of England average.

“Some people travel more than an hour to get here.”

Most are British, but there are also American, Canadian, Dutch, German and French visitors.

“The local population loves our traditional festivals and the mayor always comes to our carol service, when the church is packed to capacity, with 250 coming to enjoy the singing,” said Mr Wilton.

St Bartholomew’s was built in 1871 and was the first Anglican church in the west of France.

It was built on land given by the publishing family Faber and Faber. In the mid-19th Century, Dinard began to be a favourite seaside destination for rich English and American travellers.

Lyona Faber fell in love with the town on her first visit around 1850 and moved there with her husband William, who died shortly after their arrival. She bought a piece of land, which she left to her son, William Stanley Faber, when she died in 1866.

He donated the land so that a church in the English Gothic-style could be built in memory of his mother.

The first services were held in November 1871 and the church was so popular that in 1880 it was extended, and then made bigger again in 1894 to make room for an organ.

The town’s popularity began to decline in the 1930s, when the fashionable headed further south to the Côte d’Azur, but the church has continued to serve the local Anglican population. Mr Wilton has moved there with his wife Gillian, who is also ordained.

“She has attracted local press interest, as the first woman ever to preside at Holy Communion in Brittany,” he said.

There is a communion service every Thursday at 10am and another every Sunday at 11am, plus celebrations of all the traditional festivals in the Church of England calendar.

Meanwhile, St John’s Church, in Menton, Côte d’Azur, is appealing for funds to complete a 10-year restoration project, which was started in 2010, when the structure was damaged during building on an adjacent site.

St John’s Church, in Menton, above, has launched an appeal

The north-west corner subsided and the authorities declared it unsafe.

It survived an earthquake in 1887 and in 1992 local residents saved it from demolition for property development.

They now need €100,000 to finish the restoration, including €6,125 for roof repairs.

The British were attracted to the area by the beautiful scenery and mild climate.

A book written by Dr Henry Bennett in 1861, Winter and Spring on the Shores of the Mediterranean, persuaded more people to go there for its health benefits.

Local records show that by 1858 Anglicans were meeting for worship in rooms hired for the purpose.

Money for the church was raised by the British residents and it was built in the English Neo-Gothic style, and opened in 1868.

The Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, worshipped there and had his own entrance, still known as the King’s Door.

Queen Victoria and Winston Churchill are also said to have visited.

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