Tucked away in the fertile Les Vauxbelets Valley in the centre of Guernsy, the Little Chapel was a work of art and labour of love by Brother Déodat. His plan was to create a miniature version of the famous grotto and basilica at Lourdes in France, decorated with pieces of broken pottery, pebbles and shells. The version you see today is actually the third version.
The first c hapel, measuring just 9 feet long by 4.5 feet wide, was criticised, so Brother Deodat spent the following night demolishing the building. He soon set to work again and, in July 1914, the grotto was completed and officially blessed. The portly Bishop of Portsmouth visited in 1923 and was unable to get through the door. A mortified Brother Deodat again demolished it and began building again. Brother Deodat returned to France in 1939 with ill health, where he died, so never saw his chapel finished.
The care of the Little Chapel was entrusted to Brother Cephas, who continued to decorate the building until his retirement in 1965.
For a while adjacent buildings were rented to Blanchelande College, a Roman Catholic private school, in perpetuity for a peppercorn rent, as long as they maintained the Chapel and the children would keep it neat and tidy. It is now looked after by the Little Chapel Foundation.
The building is constructed from clay and clinker from the glass houses on Guernsey and the decoration was cemented onto it. Over the years cracks had formed allowing water to enter. Major structural work was needed in 2015 to prevent collapse. The foundations needed stabilising and underpinning and the surface waterproofing. This involved carefully removing the surface decoration and the unstable core. The walls were reconstructed using concrete and a waterproof layer applied before replacing the decoration.
The Little Chapel is now a major tourist attraction and thought to be the smallest consecrated chapel in Europe. It is open daily between 9-4.
The Chapel is reached down a short track and is built on the side of the hill with steps up to it.
There is a one way system in operation with entry through the main door.
This leads into a tiny nave and chancel.
Narrow steps lead down to a lower level with another small chapel in the crypt.
A bell was installed in the Little Chapel by Brother Deodat to be rung on the feast days of Our Lady. The original bells was lost and has been replaced by the current bronze bell from the schooner Liverpool which sunk off rocks in Alderney in 1902.
Through an archway is another tiny chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour
A doorway leads out of the chapel.
The stations of the Cross in the grounds were placed here in 2000.
I enjoyed the Little Chapel much more than I expected. Having read about it before visiting, I’d wondered if it might be a bit ‘tacky’. It wasn’t. It really is delightful and very, very photogenic. It is free to visit, but please leave a donation to help with its upkeep.
Martyn Guille, a well known silversmith has a workshop by the Little Chapel. As well as selling his jewellery, this also sells gifts and has a small cafe.