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Jersey’s rate of exchange riots

Jesus [around AD 33, Jerusalem] looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins (Greek, lepta). And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.         Luke 21: 1-4


It’s Saturday, 29 August 1730. We’re in the Royal Square in Jersey. A formal announcement is being made. During it, what has been called ‘the greatest riot known in Jersey’ breaks out. An angry crowd of 300 starts to break all the windows of the house of the Lieutenant Bailiff (now de Gruchy’s Department Store). The mob threatens to kill him. 


What’s it all about? It’s all about exchange rates. Not the conversion between the £ and the Euro that is today so unfavourable to us Jersey (and British) folk when we visit St Malo. But St Malo was a major part of the problem.


In St Malo as well as in Jersey the main coin in 1730 (and for many years earlier and later) was the livre tournois (livre = pound) - a gold coin. There was another silver coin - a sou otherwise known as a sol. There were 20 silver sols to the livre. But these gold and silver coins became scarce and it became more and more common to pay someone 80 small copper coins - liards – instead of one livre. A sol was worth 4 liards (small copper coins).


What’s the problem? St Malo actually. There in France they reckoned there were six liards to the one sol.


As always it’s the Government that has to fix the problem. And as always the folk who are in Government are the better off – or, at any rate, the folk who want to keep in with the better off. Hence the formal announcement in the Royal Square that day: from now on there will be six liards in every sol. In short, six-au-sol caused a riot. And a week later another - of 500 people.


These were riots of poor against rich. Those who owed money wanted to pay only 80 liards for every livre that they owed. Those who were owed money wanted 120 liards for each livre that they were owed.


In AD 33 Jerusalem (see bold above) an amazing donation of two small copper coins is made by a poor widow. She is not a rioter. She does not seek to kill someone from Government because she’s had poverty thrust upon her.


Her small copper coins are liards, worth 1/128 of a denarius - one day’s wages for a labourer at that time. Let’s say that a day’s manual labour in Jersey yields £64. Each of this poor widow’s coins would be worth roughly 50 pence. She had two of them. They were all she had. She had one £.


Why does she give away both into the offering box for the poor in Jerusalem. Surely she should keep one of them – or be outside begging.


There must be something special about the intangible part of this widow woman – about the something that is unseen and weightless and formless that is really her.  What motivates her to give so much? In fact, it seems that the invisible intangible within her (her spirit) is the same as God’s Spirit as revealed in Jesus Christ. She has, like Jesus Christ, Son of God, the will to give and give and give again. He even gave his life to save his enemies from their own self-centred self-consuming obsession which imprisons each of them in their “me”.


Jesus had spoken a few minutes earlier about such folk. He had said, “Beware of the scribes, who – (1) Like to walk about in long robes;(2) Love greetings in the market-places;(3) Love the best seats in the synagogues;(4) Love the places of honour at feasts;(5) Devour the houses of widows; and (6) Make long pretend-prayers.”


He wanted them to be like the poor widow. That’s why he died. He died so that, when they saw him give his life (for them, his enemies), they would recognise their unperceived need, their need to be saved from the self-interest that bound them hand and foot. He gave his life in the same way as the poor widow gave her life, gave “all she had to live on.”


No wonder Jesus spoke so well of her......and her no-rioting, changed self.

‘This life is all the heaven the worldling has, and all the hell the saint ever sees.' (Anon.)
‘O Lord, let me not live to be useless!’ (John Wesley, Preacher, 1703-1791)
Richard Syvret

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