|Send three and fourpence, we’re going to a dance….
Join David Phillips at a dance at the salle at Eus on the 12th of Oct in aid of the refurbishment of St.George’s church Vernet-Les-Bains. There will be refreshment to buy and a raffle, entry will be free with a request for donations. Derek and Jean Yves of the band Nostalgia will be playing and leading the fun. More info from David Phillips on 0604503137
Last year in Vernet-les-Bains was the year of Kipling, celebrating the famous writer and poet who stayed in Vernet when his wife came to take the waters 100 years ago. In all they came to Vernet three times on the advice of a specialist from Geneva.
In those days Vernet was known as the “Paradise of the Pyrenees”, and the three decades before the First World War were known as the “Belle Epoque”, a time of economic growth and internationalism. During this period there blossomed a cosmopolitan community, intellectual and sophisticated, of which Kipling was a leading light. Many others also came from Britain they bought houses in the area or stayed in the luxury hotels that lined the banks of the River Cady.
Eventually it was thought that it would be good to build an English church and so they clubbed together and raised the money to build an Anglican church which was called St. George’s and begun in 1912 , the foundation stone being laid by Field Marshal Earl Roberts VC., and formally consecrated in 1913. The church is a lovely building in the Romanesque style, though now in much need of renovation. It was attended by many in those early days, both British and French, including the youngest daughter of Queen Victoria, Princess Beatrice.
St. George’s flourished until WW2 though not so many people came to France after the First World War and then the Wall Street Crash of 1928/29, but the church remained strong.
After WW2 it was a long time before the church re-opened, the congregations dwindled somewhat until the sixties when the church was leased to the Roman Catholics for a few years, but in the late sixties the church was closed because of repairs that were needed and the building fell into disuse.
In the nineties a rather naughty Maronite priest squatted in the building and took it over for his own use, storing furniture and painting the plain windows with lurid designs.
The building came to the attention of some British people in the area who wanted to see it restored as an Anglican place of worship.
In 1997 a retired priest, David Evans, from the other end of the Pyrenees, Pau, was asked if he would come over and try to re-open the church. Through his valiant efforts and the support of local ex-pats the church was eventually cleared out, but the building was unable to be used because it had been closed by an “Arrete Prefectorial” so special permission was needed and much modernisation, which of course the tiny congregation, which David was gathering, could not afford.
David negotiated with the local Maire to give the building to the commune under the understanding that they would renovate it and use it as a cultural centre but allowing the church members to use the building on Sundays and one day a week.
Sadly the commune was in great debt and has been unable up to the present to fulfil its promise to refurbish the building, but the church, which of course is the people, do meet every Sunday at 10.00am in the chapelle Notre Dame du Paradis which is just below the place on the west side.
Not only was this the year of Kipling but it was also a year of change again for St. George’s, David Evans retired (for the last time he says) and a new vicar was appointed, another David, David Phillips a Yorkshireman who has a house in Olette, has been coming to the area with his wife Lesley for their holidays for ten years and has finally retired to the area with their Labrador dog Bella.