Little Chapel, Guernsey.
A work of art and a labour of love, the Little Chapel is possibly the smallest chapel in the world. It was built by Brother Déodat who started work in March 1914. His plan was to create a miniature version of the famous grotto and basilica at Lourdes in France. Guardianship of the Little Chapel now rests with Blanchelande Girls College which is run by a Charitable Trust. The Little Chapel is beautifully decorated with seashells, pebbles and colourful pieces of broken china and the College has an ongoing programme of repairs and improvements.
In 1680 Jean-Baptiste de la Salle founded 'The Brothers of the Christian Schools', a religious fraternity of men devoted to the education of boys. The order flourished and by the early 20th century more than six thousand brothers were teaching in France.
In 1904 the French government passed anti-religious laws proscribing all religious schools. Thousands of religious left France to continue their work of vocation in exile. Thus it was that a group of de la Salle brothers arrived in Guernsey in June 1904 and acquired Les Vauxbelets (=the pretty little valleys). The brothers developed the estate and buildings. They constructed a large wooden hut, a stone building and a farm.
In December 1913 Brother Deodat (=given to God) arrived at Les Vauxbelets. When he saw the woody slope of land facing the valley he formed the idea of building a grotto like that at Lourdes. In March 1914 he built a tiny chapel, 9 feet long by 4.5 feet wide. This chapel was criticised and so Brother Deodat spent the following night demolishing the building. Thus ended the first chapel.
Brother soon set to work again and in July 1914 the grotto was completed and officially blessed. Not long afterwards he built a little chapel which measured 9 feet by 6 feet. This survived until September 1923; Brother Deodat demolished it in that month because the Bishop of Portsmouth had not been able to pass through the doorway. Thus ended the second chapel
In 1939 Brother Deodat returned to France because of ill health. After his departure the care of the Little Chapel was entrusted to Brother Cephas, who continued to decorate the building until his retirement in 1965. The building lacked necessary maintenance for several years until, in 1977, a committee was established to restore the chapel. The foundations were stabilised and the roof renovated. Much was accomplished but the work of conservation and restoration is never ending.
Brother Deodat soon set about the construction of a third chapel - which we see today. The building operation proved laborious. Day after day he collected pebbles and broken china to decorate the shrine. Then suddenly the Little Chapel became famous, thanks to an illustrated article in the Daily Mirror. Islanders brought coloured china to Les Vauxbelets; the Lieutenant-Governor offered a remarkable mother-of-pearl; presents poured in from around the world.
Les Vauxbelets was home to several different schools during the course of the 20th century. Initially the brothers ran an agricultural college, in conjunction with their farm, where they taught crafts and skills for use on the land as well as academic subjects. Either side of World War Two this evolved into a successful boys' college and when that had to close the buildings were used as a language school which received groups of students from the continent.
In 1999 Brother Christantian, who was by then in the 86th and final year of his life and who was faced with the prospect of having to sell the site, had the vision and inspiration to offer it to Blanchelande Girls' College on a long term lease. He firmly believed that this was God's will and it provided Blanchelande with the permanent home it had been seeking.
Nuns had run Blanchelande College at a site in the parish of St. Martin's since 1902 but when the Sisters of Mercy left in 1992 the school was re-established at a temporary home in Rosaire Avenue, St Peter Port.