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Remembrance Day service, Vernet-Les-Bains
13th November 2016
St.George’s Church Vernet-Les-Bains
Reparations are nearly finished at St. Georges church Vernet-Les-Bains for the induction of the new vicar.
Saturday the 9th of July
This year in Vernet-les-Bains is 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 is this the year of Kipling but we are in a year of change again for St. George’s, David Evans is retiring (for the last time he says) and a new vicar has been 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.
Saturday the 9th of July sees the Induction of the new vicar (known as a chaplain in Europe) and the retirement of David Evans. The service hopefully will be in St.George’s but if not it will be in the chapelle at 11.00am. The suffragan bishop of Europe will take the service with local clergy and the bishop of Perpignan in attendance. A new window, donated by a church member in memory of his parents, depicting St. George and the dragon is also to be consecrated at this service.
If anyone would like to attend they will be most welcome and at any of the weekly services as well. You can ring the new vicar for information on 04 68 96 24 58.