Eton College Chapel

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Eton College Chapel, seen from Windsor Castle

Eton College Chapel is the chapel of Eton College, an independent school in the United Kingdom.

Never completed owing to the Wars of the Roses, the chapel should have been a little over double its current length; a plaque on a building opposite the West End marks the point to which it should have reached.[1] The Chapel is built in the late Gothic or Perpendicular style.

The fan vaulting was installed in the 1950s after the wooden roof (there was no money for a vault to be installed in the 15th century after King Henry VI was deposed) became infested with deathwatch beetle. It was completed in three years and is made of concrete, faced with stone, supported from steel trusses, with hand-carved Clipsham stone for the stone ribs supporting each bay.


Eton College Chapel is in frequent use, with at least one service a day, and many additional services which are in popular demand, ranging from Taizé to Roman Catholic Communion, to Compline. Almost every morning there is a compulsory service, attended by different 'Blocks' (school years) depending on the day, something which has been both criticised and defended by boys in The Chronicle (the school magazine). These last no more than twenty minutes.


The interior of Eton College Chapel.
The organ of Eton College Chapel.
The church yard next to the chapel.

Henry attached the greatest importance to the religious aspects of his new foundation and he planned that the services would be conducted on a magnificent scale by providing an establishment of 10 priest Fellows, 10 chaplains, 10 clerks and 16 choristers. There were 14 services a day plus prayers that were said. There would also be masses offered for the founder's parents and after his death for the Founder instead. This last custom reflected the belief in the Middle Ages that prayers said for a dead person's soul hastened the progress of said soul from Purgatory to Paradise.

This was befitting for a church that was to become a great place of pilgrimage in Europe: for about a decade pilgrims attracted by the relics and the Indulgences flocked to Eton on the Feast of the Assumption in August, when there was a fair lasting six days on the fields.

For around forty years before the present chapel was completed, services were held in the parish church which was dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin. In the 1460s the annual influx of pilgrims died out, and the large establishment of clergy was permanently reduced in size.

The chapel services remain a key part of the life of the college: boys attend Chapel once on Sundays in addition to compulsory services three or four days a week, and the numerous optional services that take place out of school hours.

The choir[edit]

The choir which sings in the chapel is made up of boys from the school, and is directed by the Precentor and Director of Music, Tim Johnson. Up to 75% of the choir are former members of various cathedral and collegiate choirs, and many have been admitted under the school's Music Scholarship scheme. Many go on to continue their singing careers as choral scholars at Oxford or Cambridge.

Nowadays the choir only sings at three or four compulsory services a week, as recent cuts in the services mean that the choir only makes appearances to boys on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. There are a number of other services that are optional. As second chapel Lower Chapel was built in 1890 to accommodate the growing number of boys at the school.

Acoustics and lighting[edit]

The chapel is unique amongst its comparably-sized peers in that it eschews sound boards (a common feature of English churches and chapels in which medium-to-large-scale services and concerts are heard) in favour of what the former Precentor, Ralph Allwood, calls a more "organic" sound produced without the use of equipment (apart from microphones in the pulpit and lectern).

The audio reinforcement system in the chapel, installed by DRV Integration, was the winner of the AV Magazine audio project of the year award in 2003.

Wall paintings[edit]

The wall paintings in the chapel are considered to be the most remarkable work of art in the College. They are the work of at least four master painters[who?], including William Baker[disambiguation needed], who took eight years to complete them (1479–87). In the Flemish style, they adorn the sides of the chapel. On the north side the paintings depict the Virgin Mary (to whom the chapel is dedicated), while those on the South side tell a popular medieval story about a mythical empress. These paintings were whitewashed over in 1560 as a result of an order from the new protestant church authorities which banned depictions of mythical miracles. They were left obscured and forgotten for the best part of 300 years until they were rediscovered in 1847, and it was not until 1923 that they were cleaned, restored and revealed by the removal of the stall canopies.[1]

Chapel windows[edit]

In World War II, all of the chapel glass, excepting a window above the organ, was shattered by a bomb that fell on the nearby Upper School, The fine East Window is the work of Evie Hone. The designs for the windows on either side are by John Piper and were executed in glass by Patrick Reyntiens. The subjects are divided into four miracles on the north side and four parables on the south side. The miracles are: the Miraculous Draft of Fishes, the Feeding of the Five Thousand, the Stilling of the Waters, and the Raising of Lazarus. The parables are: the Light under a Bushel, the House built on the Rock, the Lost Sheep, and the Sower.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Hope, Charles (7 March 2013). "At Eton". London Review of Books. Retrieved 28 February 2013. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°29′30″N 0°36′31″W / 51.4916°N 0.6087°W / 51.4916; -0.6087