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Chapel of St Michael & St George, St Paul's Cathedral, London. St Paul's Cathedral Chapel of St Michael & St George, London UK - Diliff.jpg
Chapel of St Michael & St George, St Paul's Cathedral, London.
schematic rendering of typical "side chapels" in the apse of a cathedral, surrounding the ambulatory. Apsidal chapels.png
schematic rendering of typical "side chapels" in the apse of a cathedral, surrounding the ambulatory.

A chapel is a Christian place of prayer and worship that is usually relatively small, and is distinguished from a church. The term has several senses. Firstly, smaller spaces inside a church that have their own altar are often called chapels; the Lady chapel is a common type of these. Secondly, a chapel is a place of worship, sometimes non-denominational, [1] that is part of a building or complex with some other main purpose, such as a school, college, hospital, palace or large aristocratic house, castle, barracks, prison, funeral home, cemetery, airport, or a military or commercial ship. [2] Thirdly, chapels are small places of worship, built as satellite sites by a church or monastery, for example in remote areas; these are often called a chapel of ease. A feature of all these types is that often no clergy were permanently resident or specifically attached to the chapel.


Finally, for historical reasons, chapel is also often the term used by independent or nonconformist denominations for their places of worship in Great Britain, even where they are large and in practice they operate as a parish church. [3] [4]

The earliest Christian places of worship are now often referred to as chapels, as they were not dedicated buildings but rather a dedicated chamber within a building. Most larger churches had one or more secondary altars which, if they occupied a distinct space, would often be called a chapel. In Russian Orthodox tradition, the chapels were built underneath city gates, where most people could visit them. The most famous example is the Iberian Chapel.

Although chapels frequently refer to Christian places of worship, they are also commonly found in Jewish synagogues and do not necessarily denote a specific denomination. In England—where the Church of England is established by law—non-denominational or inter-faith chapels in such institutions may nonetheless be consecrated by the local Anglican bishop. Non-denominational chapels are commonly encountered as part of a non-religious institution such as a hospital, airport, university or prison. [5] Many military installations have chapels for the use of military personnel, normally under the leadership of a military chaplain. [6]


The earliest Christian places of worship were not dedicated buildings but rather a dedicated chamber within a building, such as a room in an individual's home. Here one or two people could pray without being part of a communion/congregation. People who like to use chapels may find it peaceful and relaxing to be away from the stress of life, without other people moving around them.

Cappella Palatina in Palermo (illustrated) and Palatine Chapel in Aachen are two most famous palace chapels of Europe. Chapelle Palatine.jpg
Cappella Palatina in Palermo (illustrated) and Palatine Chapel in Aachen are two most famous palace chapels of Europe.

The word "chapel", like the associated word "chaplain", is ultimately derived from Latin. [7] More specifically, the word "chapel" is derived from a relic of Saint Martin of Tours: traditional stories about Martin relate that while he was still a soldier, he cut his military cloak in half to give part to a beggar in need. The other half he wore over his shoulders as a "small cape" (Latin : capella). The beggar, the stories claim, was Christ in disguise, and Martin experienced a conversion of heart, becoming first a monk, then abbot, then bishop. This cape came into the possession of the Frankish kings, and they kept the relic with them as they did battle. The tent which kept the cape was called the capella and the priests who said daily Mass in the tent were known as the capellani. From these words, via Old French, we get the names "chapel" and "chaplain".

The word also appears in the Irish language in the Middle Ages, as Welsh people came with the Norman and Old English invaders to the island of Ireland. While the traditional Irish word for church was eaglais (derived from ecclesia), a new word, séipéal (from cappella), came into usage.

A nonconformist chapel in Pwllheli, Wales. Unlike historic chapels, this is not attached to a larger place of worship. Capel Salem Pwllheli - - 346093.jpg
A nonconformist chapel in Pwllheli, Wales. Unlike historic chapels, this is not attached to a larger place of worship.

In British history, "chapel" or "meeting house" were formerly the standard designations for church buildings belonging to independent or Nonconformist religious societies and their members. They were particularly associated with the pre-eminence of independent religious practice in rural regions of England and Wales, the northern industrial towns of the late 18th and 19th centuries, and centres of population close to but outside the City of London. As a result, "chapel" is sometimes used as an adjective in the UK to describe the members of such churches: for example in the sentence "I'm Chapel."

Types of chapel

A bridge chapel is a small place of Christian worship, built either on, or immediately adjacent to, a road bridge; they were commonly established during pre-Reformation mediaeval era in Europe.

A castle chapel, in European architecture, is a chapel built within a castle.

A parecclesion or parakklesion is a type of side chapel found in Byzantine architecture.

A capilla posa (Posa chapel) is an architectural feature of the monastery-ensembles of Mexico in the 16th century, consisting of four vaulted quadrangular buildings located at the ends of the atrium outside them.[ clarification needed ]

A capilla abierta (open chapel) is one of the most distinct Mexican church construction forms. Mostly built in the 16th century during the early colonial period.

A proprietary chapel is one that originally belonged to a private individual. In the 19th century they were common, often being built to cope with urbanisation. Frequently they were established by evangelical philanthropists with a vision of spreading Christianity in cities whose needs could no longer be met by the parishes. Some functioned more privately, with a wealthy person building a chapel so that they could invite their favorite preachers. [8] They are anomalies in the English ecclesiastical law, having no parish area, but being permitted to have an Anglican clergyman licensed there. Historically many Anglican churches were proprietary chapels. Over the years they have often been converted into normal parishes.

A court chapel is a chapel as a musical ensemble associated with a royal or noble court. Most of these are royal (court) chapels, but when the ruler of the court is not a king, the more generic "court chapel" is used, for instance for an imperial court.

Modern usage

While the usage of the word "chapel" is not exclusively limited to Christian terminology, it is most often found in that context. Nonetheless, the word's meaning can vary by denomination, and non-denominational chapels (sometimes called "meditation rooms") can be found in many hospitals, airports, and even the United Nations headquarters. Chapels can also be found for worship in Judaism.

The word "chapel" is in particularly common usage in the United Kingdom, and especially in Wales, for Nonconformist places of worship; and in Scotland and Ireland for Roman Catholic churches. In the UK, due to the rise in Nonconformist chapels during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, by the time of the 1851 census, more people attended the independent chapels than attended the state religion's Anglican churches.

In Roman Catholic Church canon law, a chapel, technically called an "oratory", is a building or part thereof dedicated to the celebration of services, particularly the Mass, which is not a parish church. This may be a private chapel, for the use of one person or a select group (a bishop's private chapel, or the chapel of a convent, for instance); a semi-public oratory, which is partially available to the general public (a seminary chapel that welcomes visitors to services, for instance); or a public oratory (for instance, a hospital or university chapel).

Chapels that are built as part of a larger church are holy areas set aside for some specific use or purpose: for instance, many cathedrals and large churches have a "Lady Chapel" in the apse, dedicated to the Virgin Mary; parish churches may have such a "Lady Chapel" in a side aisle or a "Chapel of Reservation" or "Blessed Sacrament Chapel" where the consecrated bread of the Eucharist is kept in reserve between services, for the purpose of taking Holy Communion to the sick and housebound and, in some Christian traditions, for devotional purposes.

Common uses of the word chapel today include:

The first airport chapel was created in 1951 in Boston for airport workers but grew to include travelers. It was originally Catholic, but chapels today are often multifaith. [9]

Notable chapels

The old premises of St. Ivan Rilski Chapel in Antarctica Rilski.jpg
The old premises of St. Ivan Rilski Chapel in Antarctica
Bethesda Methodist Chapel, Hanley 1887 Hanley, Staffordshire, England
Boardwalk Chapel 1945 The Wildwoods, New Jersey, United States
Brancacci Chapel 1386Church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence, Italy
Contarelli Chapel 1585 San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome, Italy
Duke Chapel 1932 Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, United States
Eton College Chapel 1440–c.1460 Eton College, Eton, Berkshire, England
Chapelle expiatoire 1824Paris, France
Gallus Chapel 1330–1340 Greifensee ZH, Switzerland
Heinz Memorial Chapel 1938 University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States
Henry VII Chapel 1503 Westminster Abbey, London, England
Chapel of the Holy Shroud 1694 Turin, Italy
King's College Chapel, Cambridge 1446 Cambridge University, Cambridge, England
King's College Chapel, London 1446 King's College, London, England
Lee Chapel 1867 Washington and Lee University, Lexington, Virginia, USA
Llandaff Oratory 1925 Van Reenen, South Africa
Magi Chapel 1459–1461 Palazzo Medici Riccardi in Florence, Italy
Niccoline Chapel 1447–1449 Apostolic Palace, Vatican City
Palatine Chapel 786 Aachen Cathedral, Aachen, Germany
Palatine Chapel 1132 Palazzo dei Normanni in Palermo, Sicily, Italy
Pauline Chapel 1540 Apostolic Palace, Vatican City
Pettit Memorial Chapel 1907 Belvidere, Illinois, United States
Queen's Chapel 1623 St James's Palace, London, England
Chapelle Rouge 15th century BC Karnak, Egypt
Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence 1951 Vence, France
Rosary Chapel 1531-1690 Puebla City, Puebla, Mexico
Rosslyn Chapel 1440 Roslin, Midlothian, Scotland
Rothko Chapel 1964 Houston, Texas, United States
Royal Chapel of Granada 1517 Granada, Spain
Royal Chapel, Madrid designed 1748Royal Palace of Madrid, Spain
Royal Chapel, Sweden 1754 Stockholm Palace, Sweden
Chapelle royale de Dreux 1816 Dreux, Eure-et-Loir, France
St. Aloysius Chapel 1884 Mangalore, India
St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle 1348 Windsor Castle, England
Chapel of Saint Helena, Jerusalem 12th century Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem
St. Ivan Rilski Chapel 2003 Livingston Island, Antarctica
St. Joan of Arc Chapel 15th centuryRelocated to Marquette University, Milwaukee, United States
St. Paul's Chapel 1766New York City, United States
Chapel of St Peter-on-the-Wall 654 Bradwell-on-Sea, Essex, England
St Salvator's Chapel 1450 St Andrews University, St Andrews, Scotland
Sainte-Chapelle 1246 Île de la Cité, Paris, France
Sassetti Chapel 1470 Santa Trinita, Florence
Sigismund's Chapel 1519 Krakow, Poland
Sistine Chapel 1473 Apostolic Palace, Vatican City
Skull Chapel 1776 Kudowa, Silesia, Poland
Slipper Chapel 1340 Norfolk, England
Chapel of the Snows 1989 McMurdo Station, Ross Island, Antarctica
Chapelle de la Trinité 1622 Lyon, France
Chapels of Versailles 17th–18th centuries Palace of Versailles, France

See also

Related Research Articles

A parish is a territorial entity in many Christian denominations, constituting a division within a diocese. A parish is under the pastoral care and clerical jurisdiction of a priest, often termed a parish priest, who might be assisted by one or more curates, and who operates from a parish church. Historically, a parish often covered the same geographical area as a manor. Its association with the parish church remains paramount.

Place of worship

A place of worship is a specially designed structure or space where individuals or a group of people such as a congregation come to perform acts of devotion, veneration, or religious study. A building constructed or used for this purpose is sometimes called a house of worship. Temples, churches, synagogues and mosques are examples of structures created for worship. A monastery, particularly for Buddhists, may serve both to house those belonging to religious orders and as a place of worship for visitors. Natural or topographical features may also serve as places of worship, and are considered holy or sacrosanct in some religions; the rituals associated with the Ganges river are an example in Hinduism.

Minister (Christianity)

In Christianity, a minister is a person authorized by a church or other religious organization to perform functions such as teaching of beliefs; leading services such as weddings, baptisms or funerals; or otherwise providing spiritual guidance to the community. The term is taken from Latin minister, which itself was derived from minus ("less").

Church (congregation)

A church is a religious organization or congregation or community that meets in a particular location. Many are formally organized, with constitutions and by-laws, maintain offices, are served by clergy or lay leaders, and, in nations where this is permissible, often seek non-profit corporate status.

St Georges Interdenominational Chapel, Heathrow Airport

St George's Interdenominational Chapel, Heathrow Airport, is a place of worship situated in London Heathrow Airport near London, in England. The chapel was designed by Sir Frederick Gibberd. Next to the chapel is a prayer room and a counselling room.

Chapel of the Snows American church at McMurdo Station

The Chapel of the Snows is a non-denominational Christian church located at the United States' McMurdo Station on Ross Island, Antarctica and is one of eight churches on Antarctica. The chapel is the second southernmost religious building in the world and has regular Catholic and Protestant services. During the Austral Summer, the chapel is staffed by rotational chaplains. The U.S. Air National Guard supplies Protestant chaplains and the Diocese of Christchurch supplies Catholic priests. The chapel is also host to services and meetings for other faith groups such as Latter Day Saints, Baháʼí, and Buddhism and non-religious groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous. These meetings are dependent on lay leadership to be the points of contact and facilitators. The building itself may hold up to 63 worshippers.

Religion in Antarctica Religion in Antarctica

Christian buildings are the only religious buildings on the continent of Antarctica. Although they are used mostly for Christian worship, the Chapel of the Snows has also been used for Buddhist and Baháʼí Faith ceremonies. Some of the early religious buildings are now protected as important historical monuments.

St Lukes United Reformed Church, Silverhill, Hastings Church in East Sussex , United Kingdom

St Luke's Church is a United Reformed church in the Silverhill suburb of Hastings, a town and borough in East Sussex, England. The congregation was originally independent before taking up Presbyterianism, and worshipped in a private house from its founding in 1853 until a permanent church was provided in 1857; this was one of the oldest Presbyterian places of worship in southeast England. The growth of the community has resulted in several extensions since then, and severe damage caused by the Great Storm of 1987 was quickly repaired—except for the loss of the building's distinctive spire. The church, along with most other Presbyterian congregations, joined the United Reformed Church when that denomination was formed in 1972. It is one of four United Reformed Churches in the borough of Hastings.

Horsham Unitarian Church Church in West Sussex , United Kingdom

Horsham Unitarian Church is a Unitarian chapel in Horsham in the English county of West Sussex. It was founded in 1719 to serve the large Baptist population of the ancient market town of Horsham—home of radical preacher Matthew Caffyn—and the surrounding area. The chapel's congregation moved towards Unitarian beliefs in the 19th century, but the simple brick building continued to serve worshippers drawn from a wide area of Sussex. It is one of several places of worship which continue to represent Horsham's centuries-old tradition of Protestant Nonconformism, and is the town's second oldest surviving religious building—only St Mary's, the parish church, predates it. English Heritage has listed the chapel at Grade II for its architectural and historical importance.

Meadrow Unitarian Chapel Church in Surrey , United Kingdom

Meadrow Unitarian Chapel is a Unitarian chapel in the Farncombe area of Godalming, Surrey, England. It is part of the London District and South Eastern Provincial Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, one of 16 districts within the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, the umbrella organisation for British Unitarians.


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