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I live in Guernsey and as a child I visited the little chapel with my school and family. This gorgeous little chapel was made in 1914 by Brother Deodat as he tried to make a tiny version of Lourdes in France. It is situated next to Blanchelande College and has the Guernsey Clockmakers down the path. It is made entirely of shells, pebbles and pieces of china and you can see that endless time and effort was spent making this popular visitors attraction. It always intrigues visitors as this unique chapel can only be appreciated properly when you are there. It is a lot smaller than you would expect and inside will probably mean you have to bend over if your tall. It may be the smallest chapel in the world. This attraction can be found surrounded by fields and is a great area to walk around. It is quite close to the islands airport. If you visit the beautiful island of Guernsey this is something you must see for yourself. Although I live here I have revisited numerous times with my family to experience it with them and I'm sure I'll go back again soon.
For such a small island Guernsey has many attractions to offer the holiday-maker such as the beautiful Butterfly Farm, Castle Cornet, Fort Grey Maritime Museum, the German Underground Hospital and exhibitions and museums related to the occupation of the island during World War II but the attraction that I will always remember most vividly about my holiday on Guernsey is the Little Chapel. The Little Chapel can be found at the foot of Blanchelande Girls College between St. Andrew and St. Saviour and just off the road to the airport. Blanchelande Girls College is an imposing mass of buildings in large grounds and they began life as Lex Vauzbelets College for Boys. The College was founded by a French religious order when anti-religious laws prohibiting religious schools were passed in France in 1904 and de la Salle Brothers working for the good of Christian Schools went into exile on Guernsey. In 1913 Brother Deodat arrived at Les Vauxbelets to teach and when he saw the beautiful valley around the buildings and the lovely woody slope of land facing the valley he decided to build a grotto like the famous one at Lourdes, this was to be a labour of love in honour of God and his beloved homeland France. Brother Deodat began work on the grotto in March 1914, he collected the materials from around the island, clinkers and heavy stones which had to be rolled to their resting place one by one and he built a tiny chapel measuring only nine feet long and four and a half feet wide, it was so small that on the evening of its completion a nasty criticism about it hurt Brother Deodat’s feelings and he spent the following night pulling the chapel down and replacing it before dawn by large evergreen shrubs. He then started the construction of the Grotto by the end of July 1914 it was completed and officially blessed on a memorable day, the day of the outbreak of World War I. The day after the outbreak of World War I Brother Deodat returned to France to enlist in the army but after only one month he was discharged on grounds of ill health and returned to Guernsey. On his return to Lex Vauxbelets he started work on another little chapel next to his Grotto, after patiently collecting materials over a long period of time he commenced work and after three weeks he had built a small chapel nine feet long and six feet wide, which was large enough for four people. The chapel had two steeples and a campanile above the altar end, it lasted until 1923 when the Bishop of Portsmouth visited Lex Vauxbelets; the Bishop was a large man and was unable to pass through the doorway of the chapel, he commented that it was a pity he could not get inside because he would have granted permission to say Mass in the Chapel. On hearing this Brother Deodat destroyed the second chapel and began work on a larger one. The third attempt of the Little Chapel in the Grotto still stands and it is about seventeen feet by eleven feet with a steeple about fourteen feet high and large enough to take eight or nine adults; this chapel took a lot more material and two years of hard work before the shell was completed. After the completion of the building Brother Deodat was faced with the problem of how to decorate the chapel, he was penniless so he decided to use small pebbles and broken pieces of coloured china and day after day he collected anything he thought would be useful to decorate the building; this was a very slow task but in 1925 a reporter from the Daily Mirror noticed the little shrine and published a photograph and a report of what he called ‘The Unknown Little Jewel’ and almost immediately after the report a steady flow of coloured china began to arrive from all over the world; the Governor of Guernsey donated a piece of mother-of-pearl measuring five inches in diameter and engraved with a beautiful St. George crushing the Dragon. The Little Chapel still stands today and is open to visitors most of the year; from the outside the Chapel is a stunning sight, the steeple and outside of the building is gracefully adorned with pebbles, coloured china, glass and shells, which reflect the sunlight to stunning effect. Inside the building is without doubt the most attractive part with the altar and small Madonna surrounded by an aurora of ormer shells, the beautiful domed ceiling is covered in a mosaic of coloured china, which is in itself a work of art, all the walls are adorned with china, pebbles and shells, the floor is covered in brightly coloured small tiles, there is a small font and a few small stained glass windows, which allow the light to stream in and dance of the walls. To the right of the altar there are five small steps leading down to the crypts, again all inlaid with shells, pebbles, broken coloured glass and china; from the crypts you enter the Grotto itself, which was the inspiration of the shrine. The Grotto has been laid out to reflect as near as possible a replica of the shrine and grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes and it is not a disappointment, you walk along narrow winding paths edged with shrubs of various shades of green, some of the shrubs are flowering and every now and again you come across a blaze of stunning colour throughout the spectrum of green mixed with shades of pink, red, yellow, violet, blue, orange, purple, etc. it’s like walking through a rainbow down to the shrine of Our Lady and Saint Bernadette; which has been dug out of the side of the valley and inlaid with rock to form a cave effect. It was raining the day I visited the Little Chapel and at first I felt a little disappointed by the weather but the rain did not spoil my visit at all, actually I think it even enhanced the visit; it was a light shower and the sun was shining, reflecting off the beautifully decorated Chapel; when I entered the Grotto from the crypt the scent from the flowering shrubs was very strong and the raindrops on the buds and petal s was magical. There were three other adults and three children inside the Chapel with me and I felt I had enough room to look around but I would imagine if you added a priest for Mass about seven or eight would be the right number for the congregation. As we stood at the bottom of the valley looking up over the shrine and shrubs towards the Little Chapel one of the children who were there, a little girl of about six years old, asked if the fairies had built this for themselves, I could understand exactly what gave her that impression the view looked just like something you would expect to find in a fairytale. The Little Chapel has not been touched by commercialism, it is free to enter and you are welcome to stay as long as you wish, no one bothers you and there are no souvenir shops or tea rooms in the grounds, however the committee that now looks after the upkeep of the Chapel and Grotto are extremely grateful for any donation visitors may wish to make and you can usually see someone around the Grotto doing a little weeding or tidying up who will be only to happy to tell visitors about the history of the Little Chapel. I have visited many impressive and ornate churches and chapels while on holiday over the years and although I always appreciate the beauty and work that has gone into these buildings I also get a little annoyed at the money invested in them when there is so much poverty in the world; the Little Chapel however is truly something special, it is one mans labour of pure love, which money can not buy, a thing of beauty and hopefully a true joy for ever.