Posted by: anna | July 29, 2009

St Helier of Jersey

Today is the feast of St Helier of Jersey. I was familiar with his name, which is that of the main town of the island of Jersey and symbol of all that is very rich, rather decadent and certainly tax-evading. But it had never occurred to me (duh) that he was a person as well – certainly not to find out any more about him.

David Farmer is not hugely forthcoming about Helier either, though a little more information than about Donald of Ogilvy: ‘Helier (6th century), martyr, first saint of Jersey (C.I.). He was a hermit from Tongres (Belgium) who lived in a cave in Jersey above the town which bears his name. He was killed by pagans or robbers to whom he tried to preach the Gospel. He was associated with, and visited by, Marcoul. Feast: 16 July (in England and the diocese of Coutances).’

“Helier” The Oxford Dictionary of Saints. David Hugh Farmer. Oxford University Press 2003. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. University of Oxford. 29 July 2009

Another one done in by enraged pagans. There is a bit more on wikipedia. It seems to me that the pagan natives [historical language – what’s a better, if not exactly pc, way to put this? non-Christian original inhabitants?] just about tolerate Christian eccentrics who come into their midst as hermits, because hermits are quiet and keep to themselves, but get deeply annoyed once they start trying to spread the Gospel. And I have some sympathy with their view! I scuttle past the shouty evangelists in the Cornmarket. Telling people they’re going to hell doesn’t seem like much of an opening line to me. Better to be salt and light in the world, and mostly keep quiet and get on with whatever your work is and whatever kind of help you can give your neighbour. And if you can’t give help to your literal neighbour, here and now, what good are you going to do on the other side of the world? I know lots of people go and do wonderful things in Africa and so on, but I have grave doubts about a lot of what seems like ‘missionary tourism’. Missions and evangelism are a hot topic of Orthodox discussion these days. I reckon if people can’t see the effect your faith has on your everday life, without your having to say a word about it, you can talk until you’re blue in the face… on the other hand if with God’s help our little lights do shine in the world, we have to be ready for people’s questions when the flame attracts them!

** discovery of a new resource: John Henry Newman (ed)’s Lives of the English Saints, all yay many volumes (or is that ‘yea, many’), are available on archive.org! Hurra for the Internet Archive and its founders, contributors and keepers.

2011 update:

Ton 7 Tropaire à saint Hélier, martyr, (Natalice au 6ème siècle)
Originaire de Belgique, tu partis,*

Afin d’être ermite sur l’île de Jersey;*

Là, installé dans une grotte au bord de mer,*

Tu prévenais lors de l’arrivée des pirates.*

Après treize ans, ceux-ci te prirent et te tuèrent.*

Saint Hélier, prie le Seigneur pour notre salut!
You left your native home of Belgium
In order to become a hermit on the isle of Jersey;
There, living in a cave by the sea,
You foretold the arrival of pirates.
After thirteen years, the pirates seized and killed you.
Holy Helier, pray to the Lord for our salvation.
– Any Jèrriais readers to translate?
Holy St Helier, pray to God for us.
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