THE exterior of St Matthew’s Church at Millbrook scarcely merits a second glance.
Its rectilinear structure and plain outside walls compare very poorly indeed with the rich, warm granite of most of the parish churches. Closer inspection, however, reveals that the drab shell of St Matthew’s is there merely to protect an interior that is glorious in every respect.
The glass front doors are the first clue, but even these fail to prepare new visitors for what lies beyond them, namely the luminous creations of Rene Lalique which give St Matthew’s its more popular name – the Glass Church.
Opalescent panels, a magnificent altar cross, a glass font – perhaps the only one to be found anywhere – the Jersey lily motif, and truly wonderful, perfectly angelic Art Deco angels make the church one of the Island’s treasures.
Lalique, whose name remains synonymous with fine glasswork, made his name as a designer and maker of jewellery and objets d’art.
Fortunately for Jersey – and indeed the world – his house in the South of France was next to that of Florence Boot, Lady Trent, the widow of Jesse Boot, Baron Trent, the founder of Boot’s the Chemists.
Lady Trent, whose principal residence was Villa Millbrook in Jersey, encouraged her artist and craftsman neighbour to design and then create new fixtures and fittings for the interior of St Matthew’s, which lies just across the road from Villa Millbrook.
The refurbished church was to be dedicated to the memory of her illustrious husband.
Lalique, who began the work in 1932, needed little persuasion. He had wanted for some time to extend his repertoire into the architectural field. The peerless results of his endeavours, which were completed in 1934, are still there to be seen, and marvelled at, today.
Lalique, who was born in 1860 and died in 1945, was noted for the elegance of the forms he designed. Form is certainly important in the Glass Church, but much of the magic of the effect created there comes from the material chosen, verre blanc moule-presse.
This milky opaque glass makes light behave strangely, bathing the interior of the church in a soft, serene, ethereal glow entirely fitting for a place of reverence, worship and commemoration.
Although the Glass Church is most readily associated with the names of Lalique and his patron, Lady Trent, we should not forget that another important figure played a part in its design.
The Jersey architect A B Grayson is perhaps best known for his Art Deco private houses, many examples of which are still to be seen around the Island.
At St Matthew’s his designs for the oak pews, the pulpit and the lectern complement the glass and make their own contribution to what can only be regarded as the Island’s most remarkable piece of interior design.
This article first appeared in the Jersey Evening Post as part of the Pride in Jersey series, marking the Island’s 1204-2004 celebrations.