The Chrurch Warden

One of the oldest documents from the commune is still with us and dates back from the days when the Church was run by non clericals. Until 1905, when the Church and the State separated, the day-to-day functioning and the finances of the parish were administered by the factories of church, elected by the parishioners and churchwardens, including the priest.

 

The finances of the parish were important as the Church was responsible for the schools, the charities and cultural institutions, on top of the maintenance expenses of the church

Under the Old Regime, the church was maintained and administered by the factories of church. This word means all that is owned by the Church and the people responsible for its day to day functioning, called churchwarden.

 

At the beginning, the word "factory" had a larger meaning that nowadays. It meant all monuments built by hand, including the Church, and the administration of the funds necessary for such building, its maintenance and the salary of the people.

 

Amongst these people, the factories kept a record of all the poor parishioners and were responsible to provide them with the help needed to survive financially. Afterwards the factories, presided by the Parish priest, became the executive centre of the Factories of the Council of Factory, elected by the parishioners.

 

Abrogated by the Revolution and re-established by the First Consul, they were definitively got rid of by the law of 1905. There were two good reasons for this : first, to unload the priest from being responsible for the administrative tasks of running a Church, for which they were badly trained for and secondly to relieve them from such responsibility, which sometimes could be very heavy.

 

They were replaced by civilians and it was a very good thing as a few irregularities, either voluntary or not, had been found in the accounts of certain priests. Some priests could even endanger the goods that were entrusted them and which belonged to the Church. Before the Revolution, the factory of Church was the administrative centre of the Village Church, the only permanent centre for the common interests of the village in which the Church had a very important role to play. Between the church and the village there isn�t a closer link than the cemetery. It belonged to the church and to the factory for its maintenance, which sometimes could be ignored; the fences were not looked after, the animals were left to feed on the land of the cemetery, the women would hang their washing, and wood, planks and other building material were stocked there. It was a meeting place to talk and sometimes drunk brutish soldiers ended up fighting there. In April 1695 an edict stated that the parish inhabitants were made responsible for repairing the cemetery fence which has to be blessed and enclosed. The number of members to a factory varies from one to four. The Churchwardens are elected by the inhabitants during a General Meeting, in the presence of the parish priest. This is a one man one vote and in the 17th century this right is only given to those paying a certain amount of tallage. Once elected or named the churchwarden is obliged to accept his new functions. He is chosen amongst the parishioners and must be a civilian, of good character, and literate. If one did not know about their character, it was obvious that they were not all able to write and do the accounts. Sometimes they were elected because some inhabitants wanted to take revenge on the fact that they did not always get on with one or the other neighbours; and the lucky elected person could not refuse to take on all his or her new responsibilities. They are responsible for the maintenance of the church, its ventilation and its decoration. They must look after the furniture, do an inventory every year and make sure the linen, the altar cloth, the alb (white clerical dress), surplice (a large-sleeved tunic of half-length, made of fine linen or cotton, and worn by all the clergy), clergy square hat worn by the parish priest, socks, hats worn by churchwarden, cross, aspergillum, cruets, and other priestly ornaments, are kept in good order Although they are not allowed to take important decisions for new buildings, and extra expenditures, they must make sure that a good administration is carried out. They administer the funds, receive the money from various revenues and pay all the charges. A more important role is to make sure that the people attend mass and respect the customs, the giving of communion, the bell ringing, the sitting in the pews, chapels, the nomination of ordinary servants, the authorisation of collections and brotherhoods.

 

Since 1905, the parishes who had kept the idea of associations were administered by a Council of factory with their churchwardens. They still had a special place in the church : pews facing the pulpit. These institutions soon disappeared and the oldest book in the commune, the accounts book, is all we have left.