St Mary Undercroft

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St Mary Undercroft
Chapel of Saint Mary Undercroft
Guide to the Palace of Westminster (1911) (14591271170).jpg
Print from the Guide to the Palace of Westminster (1911)
Coordinates: 51°29′58″N 0°7′30″W / 51.49944°N 0.12500°W / 51.49944; -0.12500
Location Palace of Westminster, London
Country United Kingdom
Denomination Church of England
History
Founded 1297[1]
Dedication Blessed Virgin Mary
Administration
Diocese Royal Peculiar
Laity
Director of music Simon Over

The Chapel of St Mary Undercroft is a Church of England chapel in the Palace of Westminster.

It had been a crypt below St Stephen's Chapel and had fallen into disuse, being pressed into service at various times as a wine cellar, dining room for Speakers (who had holes bored into the wall to accommodate two kitchen chimneys) and (now unconfirmed by records) stables for Oliver Cromwell's horses.[2]

After a fire had destroyed St Stephen's Chapel in 1834, the undercroft returned to its former use as a place of worship. Although much stonework was damaged in the fire, it was decorated in the 1860s by Edward Middleton Barry with gilded, painted and stenciled designs in rich colours to cover the walls, floor and vaulting. The backdrop of the altar depicts royal British saints.[2]

Commemorative plaque to Emily Davison in the Palace of Westminster

On census night, 2 April 1911, suffragette Emily Davison hid overnight in a cupboard in the Chapel in order to be entered on the census form for the building as a way of ensuring her address on the night of the census was recorded as the House of Commons in claiming political equality with men. A commemorative plaque, unveiled by Tony Benn in 1999, is fixed to the cupboard.[3] [4]

It is still used for worship purposes today. In particular, children of peers, who possess the title of "The Honourable", have the privilege of being able to use it as a wedding venue. In addition, members of parliament and peers have the right to use the chapel as a place of christening[5] in the baptistery and font (whose basin was made from a single slab of alabaster) designed by Barry.[6]

It is a Royal Peculiar chapel[7] - outside the responsibility of any diocesan bishop. The building is administered through the Lord Great Chamberlain and Black Rod and it has no dedicated clergy: by convention services were conducted by the Rector of St Margaret's, Westminster, a member of the Chapter of Westminster Abbey. In 2010 the Speaker of the House of Commons used his right of appointment to nominate an outsider, Revd. Rose Hudson-Wilkin as the Speaker's Chaplain.

The body of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was kept in St Mary Undercroft on the night before her funeral in April 2013.[8] The honour was also accorded for the body of Tony Benn, the long serving Labour politician, before his funeral in March 2014,[9] as well as that of PC Keith Palmer who was fatally stabbed carrying out his duties on the palace grounds during the 2017 Westminster attack.[10]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "The Chapel of St Mary Undercroft - UK Parliament". Parliament.uk. 21 April 2010. Retrieved 24 April 2014. 
  2. ^ a b The Palace of Westminster Official Guide. Houses of Parliament. 2012. p. 70. ISBN 978-0-95620-292-5. Website www.parliament.uk
  3. ^ The Palace of Westminster Official Guide. p. 17. 
  4. ^ "Benn's secret tribute to suffragette martyr". BBC News. 17 March 1999. Retrieved 7 August 2008. 
  5. ^ Emma Crewe, Lords of Parliament: Manners, Rituals and Politics (2005, ISBN 0719072077), p. 97
  6. ^ The Palace of Westminster Official Guide. p. 71. 
  7. ^ "The Chapel of St Mary Undercroft - UK Parliament". Parliament.uk. 21 April 2010. Retrieved 20 November 2012. 
  8. ^ "Westminster service remembers Baroness Thatcher". BBC News Online. 16 April 2013. Retrieved 19 March 2014. 
  9. ^ "Queen approves Tony Benn overnight vigil in Parliament's chapel". BBC News Online. 20 March 2014. Retrieved 20 March 2014. 
  10. ^ "PC Keith Palmer's body to lie in chapel in Palace of Westminster". The Guardian. 9 April 2017. Retrieved 9 April 2017.