A History of the English Church Villars (since 1996, the Aiglon College Chapel)
by the chapel warden, Theodore Senn

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An English Church was established in Villars in 1883 and inaugurated on 27 July of that year. The Chapel was the property of the Commonwealth and Continental Church Society for well over a century but was purchased from the Intercontinental Church Society (to give Com. and Con. its later name) by Aiglon College in 1996 and rededicated on Friday 17th May of that year.

The origin and changing ownership of the Chapel must be understood in terms of Villars' history as tourist resort and of the larger plateau's development as area for private schools, including Alpine College in Arveyes (founded 1925) and of its post-war offspring Aiglon College in Chesières (founded 1949) - both schools English-speaking but in Aiglon's case of increasingly international complexion.

Concerning the pioneers of the Swiss tourist trade, these hailed principally from Britain, and Villars and its plateau developed as one of the early centres for winter sports favoured by this clientele. The alert visitor to the Chapel will sense something of this history, as he considers the location of the Chapel (i.e.adjoining the Palace Hotel, the progenitor of Villars as tourist resort); and on closer inspection of the edifice from inside where his eye will first alight on the panoramic view displayed in the porch (showing the Chapel's lonely location in its early days); and then, as his eye explores the right-hand side of the aisle and stops to read the two plaques-the first one commemorating the British curlers who gave their lives in the First World-War, and the second one, the British skiers who gave theirs in the cause of freedom in the Second World War[1]. How close the relations of all these commemorated tourists were to the Villars English Church is difficult to establish; but for those who come to this place of worship, it is moving to recognise that the 31 skiers commemorated here include Paul Chaning-Pearce, son of Melville Chaning-Pearce, the founder of Alpine College. This was the school which John Corlette attended for his better health in the late 'twenties and early 'thirties of the last century, before returning as schoolmaster to the plateau of Villars in 1947, now fired by the dream of founding his own alpine college - Aiglon College - which he formally established in January 1949 in Chalet Chantecler.

In this glance at the history of the Chapel mention must be made of Christian communities other than English-speaking who have made use of this consecrated edifice, notably the Eglise Réformée du Canton de Vaud which, prior to the post-war construction of its own edifice in Villars, held some services here. Another group which has held services in this Chapel-and still does-is a group of Dutch Protestants of the Leman Region.

The Villars English Church has enjoyed a close relationship with All Saints Vevey as well as with other churches, both Anglican and non-Anglican[2] . Whilst V.E.C. is not a daughter church of All Saints, All Saints has nevertheless at times of need taken Villars and its groupe de fidèles under its wing (as it has St. Peter's Château d'Oex). This was particularly the case during the Rev Timothy Barlow's ministry and more recently the Rev Derek Frank's in his early years at All Saints. In this connection it is significant too, that one notable Aiglon alumnus, the Rev David Ritchie, returned to this part of the Romandie as an ordained Minister of the Church of England, serving as Chaplain to All Saints and occasionally, during his years in Vevey, found the time to take services in Villars, whether in the school's gathering in the Reformed Church or in the Chapel he had attended in his Aiglon days.

Regarding the changing relationship between Aiglon College and the Chapel (now its property) this can be explained as follows: the College has used the Chapel for Sunday worship since its foundation in 1949. But as the College grew in size in the late 'sixties and 'seventies, the Chapel proved too small to hold the whole complement of students. Services were therefore programmed in the Eglise Réformée and occasionally in the Eglise Catholique Romaine. Roman Catholic students were prepared for confirmation through the care of Père Schubiger and the assistance provided by Roman Catholic teachers from the College, Tony Hyde, Head of Science and especially by Karen Kelly, Assistant teacher of Maths and Housemistress of Clairmont.

The 'nineteen eighties' was a period of increasingly diverse religious persuasion within the College and thus prompted a core of College believers to hive off from the mandatory school services in order to attend voluntary services in the Chapel. The instigator of these separate services was the All Saints chaplain, the Rev Timothy Barlow (who at that time was a visiting preacher to the College and Religious Knowledge teacher). His idea found an eager response in Bill and Bette Linton and Dolly Johnson who for many years became the mainstay of the Villars English Church as a regular place of worship - Bill as preacher and Dolly as pianist[3] . Bill and Bette jointly offered a faithful ministry with prayer meetings in their home and much pastoral care. Their generosity also extended to the Chapel - the fabric of which required costly repair. This repair was in part financed with the help of a large loan from All Saints Vevey.

Important Christian witness offered through the College and Chapel also included that of Peter and Jo Onslow, the houseparents of Chantecler[4] . Thus Jo ran a Sunday Club operating at Chantecler and once a month put on with the children she was teaching an enacted Bible story as part of the Sunday morning service at the Chapel. And Peter's role at these monthly morning services (at that time conducted by the Rev Robert Coke, the College chaplain) was that of ready pianist. Other faithful supporters from the College included Lorna Powell from the Accounts Office and Suzanne Osborne, secretary to Philip Parsons, the Headmaster of Aiglon College[5]. As for the regular weekly services, these revitalized the Villars English Church as all-the-year-round place of worship, also providing a welcome venue for small groups from the College such as students preparing for Confirmation. Confirmation services conducted by the diocesan Bishops of Fulham/Gibraltar in Europe and their deputies (The Rt. Rev Michael Baughen, Bishop of Chester and, during the past summer term, the Rt. Rev John Bernard Taylor, the recently retired Bishop of St. Albans) were held here. Congregations on these occasions during the headships of Philip Parsons, Richard McDonald and of the Rev Jonathan Long embraced not only invited parents and relatives but also other supporters of the confirmands drawn from the College and from neighbouring churches, especially All Saints Vevey.

Other memorable services in this Chapel include weddings and christenings, many of them concerning college staff and their families; also sadly, two funerals of prominent servants, both of this church and of Aiglon College-Bill Linton and Joan Hudson.

Two red-letter dates not to be overlooked amongst the special occasions in the annals of Aiglon and of the Chapel are firstly the re-dedication in 1996 of the Chapel (following its purchase from the Intercontinental Church Society by Aiglon College and its renovation)[6] and secondly a 'thanksgiving' service, occasioned by the gift of four stained glass windows. The re-dedication of the Chapel was a service graced by a wide representation of officiating clergy of the Villars plateau and Montreux area-clergy drawn from the Eglise Catholique Romaine (Père Schubiger), the Eglise Réformée (Pasteur Jean Borel) as well as from the Anglican church of St. John's Territet (i.e., the Rev Howell Sasser who acted as representative of the Anglican Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe). Also officiating at this re-dedication of the chapel was the Rev Norman Drummond (at that time Chairman and National Governor of BBC Scotland) and the College Chaplain, the Rev John Murdoch[7] (like the Rev Norman Drummond, a minister of the Scots Kirk). Present too at the service of re-dedication was a group of students enacting for the assembled congregation a pageant about the vicissitudes of God's place of worship.

As for the second of the red-letter dates, i.e. the service of 'thanksgiving' for the four stained glass windows, this service recognised the designer Martin Roberts, Aiglon's Head of Art, and the executor of the designs, Jan Colette, as well as the generous donors Mark and Margaret Elliot, parents of Toby and Guy, Aiglon alumni from the 'eighties.

Another gift adorning this Chapel which I also wish to recall here, is the present altar, a gift offered many years ago by Peter and Joan Wethey in memory of their son Richard, an Aiglon alumnus from the 'sixties.

This brief overview of the Chapel history during the past half-century would be all too incomplete without saluting at least in passing the ordained ministers known to me who conducted services here as College chaplains - Edward McNeil, Michael Bourdeaux, Michael Bootes, Tony Green, Neil Britton, Denis McWilliam, Timothy Barlow, Robert Coke, John Murdoch and Jonathan Long.

The Rev Dr. Jonathan Long, subsequently elevated to the head of the College, is the present Headmaster. The present College Head of Religious Studies is Dr Jan van der Lely.

Finally, the interested reader of our website should note that services in this Chapel over the last decades have been frequently conducted by its Wardens (as we have seen in the case of Bill Linton) as well as by other lay preachers. This is the case currently with Guy Padfield, a Lay reader and Oxbridge graduate whose qualifications include a degree in Philosophy and Theology. Guy was formerly employed by the College as teacher of Maths, Physics and Philosophy, but fortunately for the English Church and its services, still lives in nearby Gryon.

Theodore Senn, Warden 10.12.'02


[Footnote 1] Another plaque on the opposite wall commemorates the Davies family-Thomas Amos (1880-1941) and his wife Sophie Henrietta (1882-1961) "through whose loving care over long years this church was maintained and beautified to the glory of God". The close relationship between Villars' tourist trade and the English Church and Aiglon College is further indicated through the Davies' daughter Joan Hudson, who took over ownership from her mother of the Marie Louise hotel (now Hôtel du Golf) and like her parents was a pillar of the English Church and a strong supporter of John Corlette and the College which she served for many years as a governor. [Return to text]

[Footnote 2] As far as the Anglican churches are concerned the College first enjoyed the regular support of John Corlette's friend Canon Sidney Baggot who visited the College and the Church from his pied à tèrre in Leysin. In the 'eighties it was Sidney Baggot's successor, the Rev Peter Hawker, as resident incumbent at St.Ursula's Berne (subsequently Archdeacon of Switzerland and incumbent of St.Andrew's Zürich) who conducted occasional services for the College; but these services were held in the Eglise Réformée (for reasons I have indicated). Visiting ministers of other churches who have conducted services for the College include ministers of the Scots Kirk, notably the Rev Andrew Wylie and the Rev Norman Drummond (both of whom serving subsequently as Chairman of Aiglon College Association); also the Rev Udo Middelmann of the Francis Schaeffer Foundation, resident in nearby Gryon.[Return to text]

[Footnote 3] Bill Linton was Head of Maths at Aiglon College, Dolly Johnson, Assistant Mistress of Music. [Return to text]

[Footnote 4] Peter Onslow was Head of Music at Aiglon College and Housemaster at Chantecler; he was also organist at the Eglise Réformée of Villars. [Return to text]

[Footnote 5] A secretary of the church committee of an earlier period was Nibs Kohli-Robinson. [Return to text]

[Footnote 6] The renovation referred to here concerns a new belfry, a most urgent renovation and dire safety measure in the mid 'nineties, but also a miracle of rare device transported by maxi helicopter from Bex and, for the watching believers, a splendid Easter gift dropped from heaven for Villars' groupe de fidèles and College worshippers. A much earlier important renovation was that of the wooden ceiling. The timber for the ceiling was generously supplied by the Palace Hotel in response to the worshippers' wish in the mid 'fifties to save on heating. Regrettably but inevitably, the ceiling deprived the Chapel of the windows behind the altar. These windows had to be immured. [Return to text]

[Footnote 7] John Murdoch was the first minister of the Scots Kirk to be appointed as chaplain to the College. One of his special contributions to the Christian witness of the College was the offer of voluntary services of Compline on Friday evening. These services drew a large response from staff and students. [Return to text]