As a crown peculiar rather than a ‘normal’ part of the United Kingdom, the channel island of Jersey occupies a distinct constitutional position. Yet its parishes are (if anything) yet more prominent features of public life than on the mainland.
Ecclesiastically, the twelve ancient churches of Grouville, St Brelade, St Clement, St Helier (pic above left), St John, St Lawrence, St Martin (above right), St Mary, St Ouen, St Peter, St Saviour and Trinity (transferred from the French diocese of Coutances to Winchester in 1569) underwent a radical Huguenot-inspired Reformation in the sixteenth century, but many retain late medieval features like fonts (as at St Clement) and wall paintings (most famously the two cycles dedicated to the Annunciation and Jesus’ passion in the fishermen’s chapel at St Brelade; pic left).
Alongside, the parishes have long been local government units. The early modern priority of poor relief manifested itself e.g. in donations of alms dishes (preserved, like a late Stuart example at Grouville, in several of the treasuries of church plate displayed in situ; pic below). Other duties included the provision of trained bands, a parish canon and policing. Periodical communal assemblies exercised rating powers and elected representatives like the connétable (head of the civil parish), churchwardens and almoners. Later they also took charge of refuse collection and driving licences!
In many ways, this structural framework – combined with the remote geographical location – might have led the islanders down a republican path (as in the German parish federation of Dithmarschen on the North Sea coast), but royalism remained strong in Jersey, which repeatedly offered asylum to the future Charles II during the English Commonwealth. Central institutions of the States of Jersey include an Assembly with parish representatives, but legislation requires Privy Council approval and key officials like the rectors, bailiff and lieutenant governor continue to be appointed by the crown.