The Little Chapel in Guernsey is famous as one of the smallest and yet most ornate chapels in the world. It was created and largely built by just one man, Brother Deodat, who arrived in Guernsey from France in 1913.
He joined the De La Salle Brothers at Les Vauxbelets in St Andrews where they were running a Boys College. When he saw the wooded hillside next to a pretty valley within the estate it reminded him of Lourdes in the foothills of the Pyrenees and he was inspired to create his own miniature version of the grotto at Lourdes with the Basilica above. This he did but it was so small that when His Lordship, the Rt. Rev. W.T. Cotter, Bishop of Portsmouth at the time, visited the Brothers in 1923 he was apparently unable to fit through the door and he therefore refused to allow it to be used for Holy Mass. As a result Brother Deodat demolished that chapel overnight and set about building a larger one which he painstakingly decorated both inside and out with pebbles, shells and colourful pieces of broken china. He worked on it for the next 25 years until he left Guernsey in 1939.
His Chapel was built without foundations and when a large crack was discovered in the roof in 2016 it was found to be at risk of collapse. A charitable Foundation was set up to raise the £500,000 needed to save it and extensive stabilization and underpinning was carried out. It needed a new floor and a new roof but the structural repairs are now largely complete and the next project is to raise funds for disabled access to be installed.
This year being it’s centenary, a special Service of Thanksgiving was held at the Chapel on May 29th to celebrate the life of Brother Deodat and the work of the De La Salle Brothers at Les Vauxbelets.
Canon Chris Rutledge, Canon Gerard Hetherington, Father Inna and Deacon Mark Leightley all participated on behalf of the Parish of Our Lady and the Saints of Guernsey and the choir from adjacent Blanchelande College sang two choral items.
During the Service the Bailiff of Guernsey, Richard McMahon, unveiled a bronze bust of Brother Deodat by local sculptor Mark Cook especially commissioned for the occasion. Earlier in the morning, Deacon Mark had led Stations of the Cross in the grounds of the Chapel. The granite Stations were built by the Guernsey Circle of the Catenian Association and the Knights of St Columba for the Holy Year in 2000. Prayers were also said in the Brothers private cemetery at Blanchelande, where no fewer than 15 Brothers and 5 pupils are buried.
The statue of Our Lady of Lourdes, which has adorned the grotto at the Chapel for the entire 100 years, had previously been restored and repainted and it was looking resplendent on the day. The smaller statue of St Bernadette will also now be restored and the bust of Brother Deodat will be installed in an unobtrusive alcove, where he will be able to watch over his masterpiece, safe in the knowledge that future generations will be able to enjoy it and receive inspiration.