The original history of the church in the Bailiwick is unclear although there are many indications that the islands formed part of the Diocese of Coutances and had strong religious connections with France.
It was not until the time of Elizabeth I that the Reformation finally separated these connections and 'annexed and united' the Channel Islands to the Bishops of Winchester.
The office of Dean of Guernsey probably dates back to the late eleventh century. However, the first mention is found in the English Close Rolls in 1295. In the Medieval period, when the Island was part of the Diocese of Coutances, there were problems for islanders wishing to take cases before the Bishop's Court at Coutances. This led to the establishment of Guernsey's Ecclesiastical Court. The Dean of the Island was made a Special Commissary of the Bishop in order to exercise this function.
Nowadays the Ecclesiastical Court still has the task of granting probate where there are no contentious issues and sometimes, under the direction of the Royal Court, where there are. The Court also issues letters of administration in respect of the personal effects of deceased persons.
In medieval times the upkeep of the church was paid by way of regular donations from the faithful. During the reformation period the funds became severely depleted, giving rise to the need for funding from the parishioners. This practice continues with the ecclesiastical rate being included with the secular part of the Annual Occupiers Rate.
Additional information on the Ecclesiastical Court can be found with the Bailiff's Chambers section of this website.