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St Stephen's Chapel 1184-1363

First mentioned in 1184, the Chapel of St Stephen was initially the King's private chapel at the Palace of Westminster, and stood on the site of what is now St Stephen's Hall.

Rebuilding the Chapel

When King Edward I began to rebuild the Chapel between 1292 and 1297, he set out to create a rival to anything built by any other monarch, particularly his cousin Louis IX's Sainte Chapelle in Paris.

The king was long dead by the time craftsmen finished St Stephen's seventy years later. The actual construction work went on for only twenty years, as it constantly had to be stopped and restarted as the royal finances ebbed and flowed.

Purbeck stone

Stone for the two-storey building came from Boulogne and Caen in France, marble from the Isle of Purbeck, and iron was brought by ship from Spain. In the end, it cost Edward I and his progeny some £9,000.

The Upper Chapel

The Upper Chapel was exclusively for the use of the Royal Family and could only be entered via the royal apartments; the door from the outside led only into the undercroft of the chapel.

Richly (and expensively) decorated, the roof of the Upper Chapel was painted sky-blue and spattered with thousands of gold stars, and below its windows were many painted biblical characters and stories.

Painting the walls

The final burst of painting the walls and glazing the windows took 15 years, from 1348 to 1363, and was designed to show the devotion of Edward III and his family to the Virgin Mary.

The vaulting of its wooden roof soared nearly a hundred feet about the tiled floor, and every inch that could be decorated was painted in scarlet, green and blue. A series of reconstructions of the paintings which were discovered in the Chapel can be now found on the Terrace Stairs.

Delicate harmony

In designing the Chapel, the King's mason, Michael of Canterbury, attempted to create a delicate harmony between its whole and component parts. This simple idea had a strong influence on the subsequent development of English architecture, and particularly the Gothic style.

External link

For more on the history of St Stephen€™s Chapel, see the Victoria County History online


You can access biographies of

Edward I
Edward III

from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for free, online, using your local library card number (includes nine out of ten public libraries in the UK) or from within academic library and other subscribing networks.

Did you know?

Peacock feathers were used to paint the angels on the walls of the Chapel; the tails of squirrels were used to paint the saints around the altar, and white down was plucked from the breasts of the King€™s swans to paint the golden stars.

The painters also used huge quantities of linseed oil and the most expensive pigments.

Also in this section

St Stephen's Chapel was later used as the Commons Chamber