From Manx Soc vol. 19


THE record of the first establishment of a Christian church at St. John's is, like the other archives of the island, lost amid the changes that were constantly taking place in the early ages of its existence. From the foregoing narrative which has been given of the Tynwald, it will be seen that it was from a very early time selected as a suitable locality for assembling the people to deliberate upon matters of government and the arrangement of internal affairs, situated as it was in the heart of the country, and free from sudden inroads from without. As such, it was no doubt selected by those Druids, of whom mention has been made, for the celebration of their rites, and upon the ruins of whose altar, about the fifth century, the first Christian missionaries erected their church. Whoever might have been the first of these, for ancient writers are not quite decided upon that point, whether Conindrius, Romalus, or St. Patrick, was the first preacher of the gospel in Man, it is certain that a change took place at that time. The generally received tradition is, that the honour is due to St. Patrick, who is said to have visited the island in 444, on his way to Ireland, and left St. Germanus, or, as some say, St. Maughold, to govern the new church.

There are no records of these ancient ecclesiastical edifices, so that we have no means of knowing what may have been the size of that at St. John's, probably similar to what are described by Dr. Oliver in his able paper on the " Ancient Churches of the Isle of Man, prior to the Middle Ages," in Antiquitates Manniae, Manx Society, vol. xv., 1868. These Cabbals and Keeills were of diminutive dimensions, but that was of no consequence as connected with their use for legislative purposes at St. John's, the proceedings at which, as has been already stated, took place in the open air on the Tynwald Hill.

Old Chapel at St John's

A tradition prevails that a temple dedicated to Thor once stood on the site. The veneration for these deities was often transferred to Christian saints. When the heathen temple of Rushen was overthrown, a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary was erected on its site. From the great lapse of time since the first meeting here, there must have been various edifices erected for the purpose of holding these Tynwalds ; that mentioned in the statute-book of 1429 is the first we find in a public document. How many chapels may have been erected on this spot since that day it is now impossible to say, but we find in 1699 the one then standing had become ruinous, and a new one was commenced on the same site, as appears by a note in the memorandum-book of Bishop Wilson, in which it is stated — " 1704, August 4 — I finished the body of St. John's Chapel, which I began in 1699, at my own expense. It cost me forty pounds." — Cruttwell's Life of Bishop Wilson, p. 206.

It appears the bishop did not entirely build the chapel at his own expense, for we find it enacted, on the 31st December 1706, that " a sum of ten pounds for the repairing and finishing the south and north isles of St. John's Chappell, which being for a general and. publick good, shall be assessed, raised, levied, and collected of and upon all and every the tennants and inhabitants of this isle, as well barrons tennants as lords tennants, by an equal and proportionable assess upon their several and respective holdings and estates." — Mill's Statutes, p. 184, Thirty-three years after this it appears further repairs were found necessary, for we find in an Act promulgated at St. John's Chapel on the 25th day of June 1739, being " an Act for the building and repairing of bridges within this isle," among other things it is provided that " the chappel of St. John Baptist at the Tynwald, shall be repaired and amended in a sufficient manner ; " and for providing a fund for this purpose, " every man and woman, natives of this isle, of the age of sixteen years and upwards, and also every stranger man and woman of the same age inhabiting here, shall and are hereby obliged to pay to the persons now to be appointed respectively to collect and receive the same, the sum of one penny each, yearly, and every year during the term hereafter limited by this Act ; and that none shall be exempt from the payment thereof, save only such as shall be found to be decrepit, indigent, or disabled by poverty, being past sixty years of age, and not otherwise." — Mill's Statutes, p. 257. This Act was to continue in force for fourteen years.

In the Commissioners' Report, 1792, under the head of " Public Buildings," it is stated that at the time of the Revestment, 1765, " St. John's Chapel was in a state of good repair and fit for the celebration of divine service, but was now quite in a ruinous state." In the same report, Appendix C, No. 10, in a memorial to the Commissioners of Inquiry from the Right Reverend Claudius, Lord Bishop, and Evan Christian, Vicar-General, dated Bishop's Court, 21st October 1791, they say — " The memorialists beg leave also to represent to you that St. John's Chapel, in the parish of Kirk-German, in which successive vicars of that extensive parish were accustomed, time immemorial, to officiate every Sunday afternoon, during the summer season, for the convenience of the parishioners who lived at a great distance from their parochial churches, is likewise at present in so ruinous and dilapidated a state, as to be altogether unfit for the aforesaid purpose ; and that the late Lieutenant-Governor of the isle withdrew the key of the said chapel from the present vicar, and deprived him and his parishioners of the use of the said chapel;" and prayed, " That the said chapel ought to be repaired, and restored to the vicar and parishioners of the said parish of Kirk-German, for the purposes of divine worship."

In the same report, Appendix D, No. 11 — the examination of the Rev. Mr. Corlett, taken at Douglas, in the Isle of Man, the 22d of October 1791, saith, " that he has been vicar of the parish of Kirk-German for thirty years, and was perfectly acquainted with the state of repairs of St. John's Chapel in 1765 ; and at that time it was in good repair, and fit for the performance of divine service ; and this examinant hath occasionally officiated there till the month of April 1780, at which time the key was taken from the place where it was before deposited, as he apprehends by order of the lieutenant-governor,* and the petition of the inhabitants to have the key returned, in which the inhabitants undertook to keep the chapel in its then state of repair at their own expense, was refused ; and from that time the chapel has been disused as a place of worship, the inside has been entirely taken away, the roof is in most places off, and the building in a ruinous state, without door or windows ; that the ruinous state of this chapel is a matter of serious inconvenience to his parishioners, several of whom are obliged to go five miles to their parish church, which is too small to contain all the parishioners."

* Edward Smith, Esq., was Governor in Chief; Richard Dawson, Lieutenant-Governor.

The Rev. Henry Corlett was vicar of German parish for a period of forty years, from 1761 to 1801 — in which year he died.

The Duke of Atholl, in his letter to the said commissioners, dated, " Douglas, Isle of Man, October 20, 1791" also states that " St. John's Chapel was in a very different state when my father and mother gave up this island to the public ; indeed, when I was first in this island in 1779, the building, although neglected, was in a very different state than at present ; the chapel at St. John's was seated."

The Rev. Samuel Burdy, who visited the island in 1794, in a note to his poem of Ardglass, or the Ruined Castles — Dublin, 1802, says, " So much are the inhabitants influenced by superstition, that on account of a man's once hanging himself in St. John's Church, the service has been discontinued except once a year on the promulgation of the laws." It is, however, doubtful if the service in the chapel was discontinued on this account, for we find the key had been taken away long before, and the building had fallen into a dilapidated state, as has been already remarked. The building being disused was no doubt the cause of the man selecting it as a fit place to commit the rash act. It was considered necessary, before service could again be held in it, that the interior should be purged from the contamination it had received from this suicidal act, by an act of reconciliation. The name of the unfortunate man who took this liberty with his life was Hugh Kennaugh, a resident in the neighbourhood, who was afterwards interred at the west end of the chapel. At the same time and place was interred the body of a child, found drowned in the river flowing from Rhenass.

The pollution of a church in the Isle of Man is of such rare occurrence — this at St. John's being probably the only instance — that it may be as well to mention the law on this subject, as recorded in Burns' Ecclesiastical Law, vol. i. p. 309, 3d edition, 1775.

" A church, once consecrated, may not be consecrated again. To which general rule of the canon law one exception was, unless they be polluted by the shedding of blood; and in that case the canon supposes a re-consecration; though the common method in England was a reconciliation only, as appeareth by many instances in our ecclesiastical records. But in point of ruins or decay, the only exception to the general rule laid down in the canon is, unless they be burnt (that is, saith the gloss, for the greater part thereof, and not otherwise). And a decretal epistle of Innocent the Third, where the roof was consumed, is, that since the walls were inure, and the communion table not burnt, neither the one nor the other ought to be re-consecrated. Thus, a chapel in the suburbs of Hereford, which belonged to the Priory o£ St. John of Jerusalem, had been from the time of the dissolution of monasteries applied to secular uses and profaned, by making the. same a stable for cattle, and a place for laying up their hay and other provender; yet, because the walls and roof were never demolished, a reconciliation was judged sufficient. In like manner, when another chapel had been long disused, and was repaired and made fit for divine service, the tenor of the reconciliation was : The same chapel from call canonical impediment, and from every profanation (if any there were) contracted and incurred, as much as in us Beth, and so far as lawfully we may, by the authority aforesaid we do exempt, relax, and reconcile the same."

By this act of Kennaugh's it became necessary to purge the chapel from the pollution his blood had caused, which was accordingly done in 1793, as will be seen by the following copy of the reconciliation, taken from the original in the Episcopal Registry at Douglas : —


July 20th, 1793.

Whereas, the Great and Eternal God has been pleased to manifest his presence amongst tire sons of men by the special issues of His favour and benediction, and hath vouchsafed to dwell in temples made with hands, provided they be pure, and holy, and undefiled, fit for the presence of the blessed Jesus, and the habitation of His Holy Spirit: And whereas the chapel commonly called and known by the name of St. John the Baptist's Chapel, in the Parish of Kirk-German, within our diocese, had been many years ago consecrated and dedicated to the honour and service of God, and separated from all profane and common uses ; but hath lately become polluted by the blood of man, — We, Claudius, by divine permission Lord Bishop of Sodor and Mann, taking these things into our serious consideration, have this day, by the favour of God, proceeded to reconcile the said chapel : Be it known therefore to all men, by this our aforesaid public declaration, that the same chapel, with its appurtenances, from all canonical impediment, and from every profanation (if any there were) contracted and incurred, as much as in us lieth, as so far as lawfully we may, by the authority aforesaid we do exempt, release, and reconcile accordingly, reserving to ourselves and successors the right of visiting the same, and exercising all such authority and jurisdiction relating thereto, as appertain to the episcopal office. And that this our act may remain secure and extant, we do order that the same be deposited in the Episcopal Registry. — Given under our hand and seal at St. John's Chapel, this twentieth day of July, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and ninety-three, and of our consecration the tenth year.


Witnesses present —

Ed. Christian. John Crebbin. Henry Corlett. John Lace.

From the Episcopal Registry, Douglas.


The old chapel at St. John's, besides being used for legislative business, was also used as a Court-House for the legal business of the district. During the Commonwealth, the proving of wills was vested in the civil magistrates, who instituted a court, called the Willer's Court, which ceased to exist in 1660. The following is a true copy of a summons served by Chaloner himself, who received his appointment as Governor, under Lord Fairfax, in 1659

DOUGLAS, ye 23d July 1659. You are hereby required to meet at St. John's Chappell, on ye 26th day of this instant month, about the proving of Mrs. Parr, late deceased, her will, without fail.


To Capt. Stevenson and Mr. William Quayle, To Capt. Stevenson, of Balladoole,
Judges of the Will Court. These.

* Chaloner's Treatise of the Isle of Man., Manx Society, vol. x., 1864, p 84.

Some of the lay officers were guilty of defacing the records, and kept them in very base order. St. John's being a central situation, the courts continued to be held here, as we find from the following copy, taken from, an original execution for debt in 1807 : —

At a Court holden at St. John's Chapel the 16th May 1807, Between Thomas Clark Pff and Edward Gawne of Peel Town Deft by John Gawne

Execution is awarded agt the said Defendt for the sum of four shillings and eight pence Brit. with 10d. fees.


Plan of Old Chapel at St John's

The chapel at this date must have been in such a state of repair as to allow it being used as a Court-House, but it was soon after found requisite to make further repairs, so the old fabric of Bishop Wilson was once more put in order some time after the appointment of Bishop Murray, which took place in 1813. He provided seats and some pews at his own expense, and other repairs were allowed from time to time out of the fine fund. On reference to the ground-plan of this chapel, it would appear to be intended to be in the form of a Maltese cross ; this is a peculiarity seldom met with.

Up to this time there was no regular appointment of resident chaplain, the duty being occasionally undertaken by the Vicar of German, and on Tynwald days by the Government Chaplain from Castletown. It was not until October 1820, the chapel being then in a decayed state, that the first resident chaplain was appointed to conduct the regular service of the chapel in the person of the Rev. William Gill, the present Vicar of Malew, who held the appointment for three years at the low stipend of five guineas per annum. Mr. Gill was the grandson of the Rev. Henry Corlett, who for so many years held an extra service in the chapel on Sunday evenings during the summer months. He administered the Lord's Supper occasionally, and baptisms and christenings were celebrated at first, but given up because displeasing to the vicar of the parish.

Upon the retirement of Mr. Gill, in 1824, the Rev. Samuel Gelling, late Vicar of Santon, was appointed chaplain on the nomination of Bishop Murray, with a salary of five pounds per annum. He resided in Peel, and resigned in July 1833.

Upon his retirement the Rev. William Drury (present Vicar of Braddan) was appointed chaplain at a salary of thirty shillings a year. He resided at Snugborough, in Kirk Braddan, distant some five miles, and resigned the appointment in October 1834. Mr. Drury was off the island during the latter part of his holding. The service was performed usually once on Sunday by various clergymen, the Rev. Mr. Roberts of Kirby, John L. Stowell of King William College, F. B. Hartwell of Ballasalla Abbey, and Thomas Caine of Douglas.

In 1835, the Rev. John Gell, aged seventy-five years, was appointed. He resided at Ballasalla. Morning service was performed alternately in Manx and English while he had the charge. In 1836 he applied to Lord John Russell, Home Secretary, and obtained a salary of twenty-five pounds per annum. He again petitioned in 1840, and had his salary increased to forty pounds a year. Being in a delicate state of health during the latter part of his time, he was unable to attend to the duty, coming to St. John's only once or twice a month.*

* I have seen a curious journal written by this gentleman of his early life, in which it is stated that he was the son of the Rev. Samuel Gell, Vicar of Kirk Lonan, and was educated by the Rev. Mr. Moore of Douglas until he was fourteen years of age. He was afterwards instructed in navigation, and at sixteen was bound apprentice to Mr. J. Joseph Bacon, merchant in Douglas. Being shortly afterwards sent on a voyage to Barbadoes, he was taken prisoner by a privateer; the vessel, being ransomed, proceeded on her voyage, but meeting with a Spanish fleet, he was again taken, and landed at Cadiz, where he remained some time in prison. After an exchange he arrived in Douglas, and soon afterwards sailed in another vessel, belonging to Mr. Bacon, for South Carolina. On nearing that place he was again taken and carried to France, and placed in prison, where, after suffering much hardship, he was sent with others to Plymouth ; but fearing to be pressed into the King's service, he, along with three others; contrived to escape into the country, when, after undergoing much hardship and privation, having to travel chiefly during the night and along by-roads, he at length arrived in Liverpool, and from thence, in a Manx trader, landed in Derby Haven. Mr. Bacon was willing to make him chief mate in another vessel, but his father, thinking he was sc unfortunate in the seafaring life, placed him with the Rev. Mr. Quayle, then master of the Grammar School, Douglas, with whom he continued until he was twenty years of age, when, Bishop Mason being then dead, the Governor and Archdeacon, in 1783, appointed him as Reader at St. Mark's Chapel, and he was afterwards ordained by Bishop Cregan, and licensed to the said chapel, where he remained several years.

On the 20th of June 1840, the Rev. William Bell Christian, afterwards Vicar of Lezayre, son of Deemster Christian of Milntown, was appointed curate in charge of St. John's, at which time he resided at Ballagarey, Marown, distant four miles. On the 1st of August the Isle of Man Diocesan Association voted the curate £30 per annum, which was paid as long as Mr. Christian officiated, and then ceased. About the same time the Parsonage House was contracted for and commenced. A piece of ground a short distance from the chapel, containing half-an-acre, was purchased by the Diocesan Association for £30. Her Majesty's Government contributed £100 towards the expense, and the Diocesan Association undertook to provide such further monies as might be required, about 1200. It was afterwards found necessary to have the house cemented. Upon Mr. Christian coming into residence, he had to pay the Rev. John Gell, the chaplain, £10 a year as rent for the house.

In the latter part of the year 1840 an application was made to Her Majesty's Government to rebuild the chapel, which, after examination and report by the crown agent, they refused to do, but spent about £35 in making some immediate and necessary repairs. At this time a Manx service took place every third Sunday morning, but was discontinued soon after the death of Mr. Gell.

On the death of the Rev. John Gell, chaplain, on the 29th January 1845, Mr. Christian continued his services as curate, when, on the 22d April following, the Lieutenant-Governor, Colonel Ready, announced to the committee who had been appointed to superintend the building of a new chapel, " that Her Majesty had been pleased to appoint the Rev. William Bell Christian as Government Chaplain of St. John's, Kirk-German, to be held during pleasure." This he held only for a short time, having been appointed Vicar of Lezayre on the 25th June the same year.

On the 27th August, by order of the Lord Bishop, Dr. Short, the Rev. John Fry Garde, curate at Cronk-y-Voddy, came to reside at the Parsonage House, St. John's, and soon after received his official appointment from the Hon. Charles Hope, Lieutenant-Governor, as Government Chaplain at St. John's, being the last appointment to the old chapel of Bishop Wilson.

The salary allowed in his time was £40 from Her Majesty's Treasury, £20 from the Impropriato Fund, and £7 :16 : 2 from the Royal Bounty Fund, making a total of £67 :16 : 2 per annum.*

* Since the reform in the election of the members of the House of Keys, the chaplain's salary has been fixed at £100 per annum, paid out of the Insular Revenue.

The few records we have been able to gather respecting the chapels at this place, having been thus brought down to the time when it became absolutely necessary to take some steps to provide a new edifice, it remains only to call attention to the ground-plan for its internal arrangement, which will show its confined state with reference to the greatly increased wants of the neighbourhood, independent of the dilapidated condition of the building. There was little or no accommodation for those who had to make use of it, particularly on the assembling of the Legislature. The entrance to the chapel was down a step, which, in wet weather, became unpleasant from the water thus accumulating. There was no font, and when a child was baptized water had to be brought in a basin, and carried along with the infant to the communion table.

The author of A Poetical Guide to the Isle of Man, Liverpool, 1832, thus describes its appearance on approaching St. John's from Castletown, through Foxdale : —

" And now you leave the dale and travel on
Until you see the Chapel of St. John,
With bells, two painted, and a tinkling one.
Here Tynwald Hill attracts your transient glance;
With veneration to the ground advance

Here are the laws promulg'd.
Behold that mound
Which oft has been with jurisprudence crown'd
Of sage grave senators, who in a row
From the three bells up the green platform go.
But this to see, attend when a new law
Is thence promulgated without a flaw."

The details connected with the building of the new chapel will be found in the following section of this record.


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