Lady chapel

A Lady chapel or lady chapel is a traditional British term for a chapel dedicated to "Our Lady", the Blessed Virgin Mary, particularly those inside a cathedral or other large church. The chapels are also known as a Mary chapel or a Marian chapel, and they were traditionally the largest side chapel of a cathedral, placed eastward from the high altar and forming a projection from the main building as in Winchester Cathedral. Most Roman Catholic and many Anglican cathedrals still have such chapels, while mid-sized churches have smaller side-altars dedicated to the Virgin.[1][2]

In the 12th-century legends surrounding King Lucius of Britain, the apostles Fagan and Duvian were said to have erected the Lady Chapel at Glastonbury as the oldest church in Britain;[3] the accounts are now held to have been pious forgeries. The earliest English lady chapel of certain historicity was that in the Saxon cathedral of Canterbury; this was transferred in the rebuilding by Archbishop Lanfranc to the west end of the nave, and again shifted in 1450 to the chapel on the east side of the north transept. The lady chapel of Ely Cathedral is a distinct building attached to the north transept which was built before 1016.[4] At Rochester the current lady chapel is west of the south transept (which was the original lady chapel, and to which the current chapel was an extension).

Probably the largest lady chapel was built by Henry III in 1220 in Westminster Abbey. This chapel was 30 feet (9.1 m) wide, much in excess of any foreign example, and extended to the end of the site now occupied by Henry VII's Lady Chapel.

Among other notable English examples of lady chapels are those at the parish church at Ottery St Mary, Thetford Priory, Bury St Edmunds Cathedral, Wimborne Minster and Highfield Church in Hampshire. The Lady chapel was built over the chancel in Compton, Guildford, Surrey; Compton Martin, Somersetshire; and Darenth, Kent. At Croyland Abbey there were two lady chapels. The Priory Church at Little Dunmow was the lady chapel of an Augustinian priory and is now the parish church.

The occurrence of lady chapels varies by location and exist in most of the French cathedrals and churches where they form part of the chevet. In Belgium they were not introduced before the 14th century; in some cases they are of the same size as the other chapels of the chevet, but in others (probably rebuilt at a later period) they became much more important features. Some of the best examples can be found in churches of the Renaissance period in Italy and Spain.

It was in lady chapels, towards the close of the Middle Ages, that innovations in church music were allowed, only the strict chant being heard in the choir.[5]


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New Zealand


South Africa

United Kingdom

Lady chapel of Guildford Cathedral, UK

United States

See also


  1. Cathedrals by Robin S. Oggins 2000 ISBN 0-281-05349-9 page 43
  2. Mary: The Imagination of Her Heart by Penelope Duckworth 2004 ISBN 1-56101-260-2 pages 125-126
  3. William of Malmesbury. Gesta Regum Anglorum [The Deeds of the Kings of the English]. c.1140. Translated by J.A. Giles as William of Malmesbury's Chronicle of the Kings of England from the Earliest Period to the Reign of King Stephen, p. 21. Henry G. Bohn (London), 1847.
  4.  Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  5. Alston, George Cyprian. "Chapel", The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. 3 Dec. 2013

Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "article name needed". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

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