With its close connections to Tynwald Hill, the church occupies a unique role in the relationship between Church and State. It plays an important part in Tynwald Day as a place of worship and also as a Court House. Originally Tynwald’s business was debated here before proclamation on Tynwald Hill. Now it just involves the signing of the day’s proceedings.
Tynwald Day is the 5th July every year and a ceremony has been held here since the C10th. Traditionally this was the date of the Pagan feast of Midsummer. An early keeil was built here with the arrival of Christianity. The first documented evidence for a chapel was in 1557, although there was probably a chapel before then. By the late C17th the church was described in ruinous condition and Bishop Wilson initiated the rebuilding of the chapel.
Until the C19th, the main function of the chapel was as a court house. The third Duke of Atholl sold the sovereignty of the Isle of Man to the British Government although he retained manorial rights and patronage of the bishopric. Following a dispute between Atholl and the British Government about ownership of the chapel, it was was locked and fell into disrepair. By 1782, it was a ruin with no roof, doors or windows. The dispute was finally settled and the chapel rebuilt, but by 1840 it was again in poor condition. The chapel was eventually completely rebuilt in 1852 with money provided by the British Government and public appeal. It is built in the C13th Gothic style with granite from quarries on South Barrule. In 1949, the chapel became the parish church for the newly created Parish of St John’s.
It is a cruciform church and on a dull day, the inside is very dark with its dark wood pews and dark ceiling. The wood roof beams are reminiscent of the hull of a ship. The gallery at the back of the church was added in 1979 and has the Tynwald coat of arms.
There is a simple, apse shaped chancel. On either side of the chancel are the chairs used by the Bishop and the Lord of Mann or, in their absence, the Lieutenant general. The stalls used by the Legislative Council are by the chair of the Lord of Mann, The Members of the House of Keys sit in massive stalls in the crossing, with their names inscribed on them,
Old standards hang from the walls of the south transept and the Memorial Books for World War One and World War Two are displayed in the church.
In the south porch is the remains of a C10th cross found when the new church was built. The top part is missing and only the shaft with its interlaced carving survives. Runes carved down the side of the cross translate as ‘Osruth carved this stone.
The west door is used on Tynwald day and a path leads to Tynwald Hill. The war memorial stand to the north of the path.
The church is on the A1 between Douglas and Peel and is open daily from 9-6. The post code is 1M4 3NA and the grid reference is SC 279819.
Architecturally this isn’t the most interesting of the Manx churches but is worth visiting for its historical and cultural significance. Do try and visit on a bright sunny day.
There are more pictures “here.”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/man/churchesandcrosses/churches/churches_two/st_johns/index.html