The Middle Ages
St Stephen's College was responsible for St Mary Undercroft, and used it for their daily round of church services along with St Stephen's upstairs.
It was called St Mary Undercroft by the canons to distinguish it from their small chapel of St Mary le Pew upstairs. We know that in the fourteenth century, the early morning service called the morrow mass was celebrated in this chapel.
It was very different from the upper chapel of St Stephen because it had a lower ceiling and would have been much darker than it is today, given the chapel's position slightly below ground and the use of candles rather than electric light. It was probably quite a spooky place.
The main use for the chapel was probably for burials. The college's funeral hearse was kept in St Mary's. We know of about twenty people who asked to be buried here, or in the cloisters; including William Lyndwood who was buried in the walls of St Mary Undercroft.
For everyone who was buried in the chapel, the canons and vicars would say a yearly mass to remember them. Other people were also remembered by masses held in the chapel on the anniversaries of their deaths. By the end of the college's existence, the college would be holding at least one remembrance service a week.
Image: Detail of ‘Crypt Chapel of St Mary Undercroft' by Michael Heseltine, oil on canvas, 1997. Parliamentary Art Collection WOA 5401
Last updated April 2017