Chichester cathedral: The Lady chapel

Pages 113-116

A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1935.

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THE LADY CHAPEL is 77½ ft. long by 20½ ft. wide internally and of five bays. The walling and buttresses of the three west bays are those of the original building, about 48 ft. long, which was probably erected before the fire of 1187, perhaps the last addition carried out before this catastrophe, as an alteration or extension of an earlier central apsidal chapel. This building, of three 16 ft. bays, was vaulted, and is therefore the earliest example of vaulting in the cathedral. The chapel was lengthened by two 14 ft. bays by Bishop Gilbert de Sancto Leofardo (1288–1304), who is credited with having rebuilt it 'a fundamentis.' (fn. 1) He appears to have built his new walls before the original east wall was demolished, the removal of which necessitated the reconstruction of the original east vault—the present third bay—and also caused the bay to be 1½ ft. longer than the original bays.

The late 12th-century windows were left in situ for a time, but those in the third bay were altered almost immediately afterwards, with the vaulting of the bay, and, although showing slight differences in the tracery, have mouldings and other details exactly like the others. The windows in the fourth bay, however, show some marked differences, which are enumerated below, and were evidently not inserted until a decade or two later.

At the altar of Our Lady there were two chantries for Bishop Gilbert de Sancto Leofardo (d. 1304). (fn. 2) There are also references to the chantries of Thomas de Lichfield, dean (1232), and Bishop Ralph Neville (d. 1244). (fn. 3) In 1321 Henry de Garland, dean, transferred to this altar a chantry for his soul, founded in the church of Little Hodley in 1303. (fn. 4) The principal chantries at this altar, however, were the two for Nicholas Mortimer founded here by Henry V about 1413 and re-endowed by Edward IV in 1461, to pray for the good estate of himself and Cecily, his mother, and the souls of his father, Richard, Duke of York, King Henry V, and Nicholas Mortimer. (fn. 5) The two priests serving Mortimer's chantries were known as the King's chaplains and had special privileges.

The chapel retains traces of paintings of the 13th century, some of which antedate the windows in the fourth bay; this bay has also the one surviving fragment of Bernardi's colour decoration of the vaulting undertaken for Bishop Sherburne as already noted.

Later the chapel fell into disuse and is said to have been partly ruinous in the middle of the 18th century. It was granted to the Duke of Richmond to serve as a burial vault for the members of his family. The heads of the burial vaults rose considerably above the original floor level and 'robbed the chapel of its due altitude' (fn. 6) and the lower parts of the windows were blocked. The building above the vaults was divided by a partition into an ante-room and a library which had a large fireplace at the east end. In 1867 the partition was removed and in 1871 the chapel was completely restored in memory of Bishop A. T. Gilbert, who died in 1870.

The east window is of five pointed lights with tracery of trefoils and cinquefoils in a two-centred head, the lights being graduated in height and width; the three middle lights have tall cinquefoiled heads and the narrowest outer lights, trefoiled heads. The jambs, mullions, arches and tracery-bars are all moulded. The jambs externally are of three orders with nook-shafts of Purbeck marble and the internal splays have each a similar shaft carrying the moulded, segmental-pointed rear-arch. All the shafts have moulded bases (of three-rounds section), intermediate bands and capitals with carved foliage and moulded round abaci. The rolls in the mullions and corresponding parts of the jambs are also provided with moulded bases and carved capitals. The window outside has been restored, the mullions and shafts being in Purbeck marble. The side windows in the three east bays are of similar detail, but are each of three lights. Those in the third bay are wider than the others, and the foliated circles in their tracery are a variation in design. The external labels have foliage and head-stops. The window on each side of the fourth bay is a later 14th-century attempt to reproduce those of the first two bays, but, instead of the detached Purbeck shafts, it has stone shafts cut out of the solid. The heads of the lights also differ, in being ogee-pointed, and the fillets in the rolls of the tracery-bars are broader, while the mouldings generally are less finely contoured. The heads of the windows are set lower in the wall than the others. All the windows have been partly restored: the modern capitals of the mullions and a few of the capitals in the jambs have been left in block, uncarved.

The walls of the fifth or westernmost bay, except for the recesses, are solid. In the upper part of the north wall is a large recess the purpose of which is not now evident. It has plain chamfered jambs and segmental-pointed arch and the sill has a moulded edge which from its contour suggests a date not earlier than the late-14th or early-15th century. It is set somewhat east of the middle of the bay and in the back of it are traces of colour decoration.

The south wall of this bay contains a tomb-recess, described below. This wall appears to have been originally pierced by a doorway, for the remains of two early moulded abaci or imposts which seem to be in situ have been partly exposed in the walling. They are 9½ ft. above the floor and are set symmetrically in the bay about 6½ ft. apart. Although their faces have been hacked away, the contour of their east and west edges remains visible and they probably formed part of a wall arcade with narrow bays of 2½ ft. flanking the middle bay. There are blocks of stone beneath them 15 in. wide, probably the width of the piers or pilasters which supported them. There are no visible remains of the arches, but higher up is a moulded string-course of an early section to this bay only. Probably this architectural feature was destroyed when the chapel of St. Mary Magdalene covered the outside of the bay.

The five bays of the vaulting are divided by triple wall-shafts; in the two earlier, dividing the third, fourth and fifth bays, the middle of the three shafts is keeled; in the two later, between the first, second and third bays, all three shafts are keeled. The earlier shafts have moulded bases of 'hold-water' section and chamfered sub-bases, coinciding with the plinth of the main walls, and carved foliage-capitals with abaci of semi-octagonal plan. The later shafts have moulded bases of three-roll section and carved foliage-capitals with moulded abaci of half-round plan. The difference between the type of ornament in the two periods is very marked. The later capitals, like those of the windows, are evenly carved with small naturalistic foliage, and of a general sameness. The earlier capitals have more vigour and variety, although the foliage is more conventional. Those between the third and fourth bays have simple spear-like and fold-over leaves, except on their east sides, which are obviously alterations of the later period. The north capital between the fourth and fifth bays is richly carved with leaves folded over bunches of fruit (grapes ?), and the south capital with scallops and incipient sheath foliage.

The north-west angle has a half-round shaft which is really an attachment of the west cross wall, but its capital, which is of an earlier form with a grooved and hollowed square abacus, is set diagonally. The south-west angle has no shaft, the rib being carried by the shaft of the west arch. In the two east angles are single keeled rolls.

The earlier vault in each of the two western bays is of simple quadripartite plan, with keeled wallribs and diagonal and transverse ribs of keeled roll and hollow section and of small voussoirs. There are carved bosses at the intersections, that in the fourth bay having narrow voluted leaves within a ring of berries, and that in the fifth foliage surrounded by pelleted straps which sprout from the mouths of four grotesque heads.

The later vaults of the three eastern bays of similar plan have additional intermediate ribs in each quarter, also at the apices or ridges: these are of triple filleted roll and hollow section, and of larger voussoirs. At their intersections and against the walls are circular bosses of foliage of the same kind as in the capitals. The transverse ribs are of a different radius from those of the earlier vaulting and the apices are higher; at the junction of the two periods the later diagonal ribs spring from the shafts in a horseshoe curve. The webs of both periods are of chalk, the earlier vaults having the larger courses. The rear-arches of the windows coincide with the vault-ribs, but, as the traceried heads rise higher, the rear-vaults of the windows slope upwards.

The internal masonry is ashlar limestone, with some diagonal tooling in the three western bays.

A moulded string-course 6 ft. 9 in. high is carried round the east bays under the sloping window sills and around the vault-shafts. It rises to 8 ft. at the third vault-shafts and fourth bay, evidently because of the higher level of the former late-12th-century windows in this bay. It originally continued thence at the higher level to the west end, but when the 14th-century windows were inserted, it was dropped below the windows to the 6 ft. 9 in. level. In the south wall of the west bay it stops just short of the west wall, but on the north side it is stopped by a 16th-century monument and cut away west of the monument to reappear again as a band in the north-west vault-shaft. It is of the same section throughout, but presumably the west part of it is earlier than the east part.

Externally the walls are of ashlar with wider jointing in the older west bays. The square buttresses to the east angles and between the first and second bays are of two stages with moulded nosings to the offsets and battering faces immediately above the double chamfered plinth. The buttresses between the second and third and the third and fourth bays are of 7 in. projection, carried up vertically to finish flush with the projecting parapets, except that to do so there is a slight setback in the face of the westernmost on the north side, as well as in the walling of the fourth bay above the window.

The lowest stage—below the string-course—of the eastern shallow buttresses on the north side is of 18th or 19th-century restoration, but that on the south side is broader, indicating that it was a clasping buttress to the former south-east angle; it is brought back to the same width as the others by an offset on its east edge below the string-course. The string-course below the sills is carried round all the buttresses and is treated below the fourth windows like that inside. There are modern vent-holes, in the side walls, to the burial-vaults.

The east wall has a low-pitched gable-head of modern repair: in it is a quatrefoiled bull's-eye window of modern stonework to light the roof-space above the vaulting.

The side walls have projecting parapets with a series of trefoiled arches, on hollowed and moulded corbels, many of which are modern.

The roof, which is modern, is covered with lead.

In the face of the east wall below the string-course is a shallow rectangular recess with a moulded frame, perhaps an original reliquary afterwards filled in. There is another shallow recess in the face of the second south buttress; it is of the 15th century and has a moulded square label; this probably enframed a carving which subsequently perished or was defaced.

The western arch of the chapel is an integral part of the retro-quire, with which it is described. Across it is an open iron screen with 15th-century gates of two leaves: (fn. 7) each leaf has a plain frame filled in with small quatrefoils of strap iron in square panels, six panels in the width by sixteen in the height. The remainder of the screen is modern, the original parts having been removed to South Kensington Museum.

The chapel is paved with modern encaustic tiles, but against the west wall, north and south of the reredos are reset nine 15th-century tiles: two have fleurs de lis and one a shield of (modern) France.

The coloured glass in the windows is of 1873 and later. The east window, to Jane, wife of Richard Owens, and their daughters, 1873, contains the Crucifixion and other incidents of the Passion and the side windows various Biblical subjects. A window in the north wall commemorates Henry Edward Hall Gage (d. 1875), eldest son of Viscount Gage (no inscription). Others are to William France, 1879; to Daniel Barnard and Anna his wife, d. 1798–9 (put up in 1882); and to Dean John William Burgon, 1888.

The south windows are to Eliza France, 1879; Canon Rawson Ashwell, 1879; Amy Mary, Countess of March, 1879; and Canon G. H. Wood, Treasurer.

The altar retains an ancient slab of Petworth marble with incised crosses; (fn. 8) it is carried on eight carved wood posts, dated 1873. The reredos of alabaster is dated 1878; it has a gabled panel filled with a mosaic representation of Christ appearing to the Disciples after the Resurrection.

In the south wall are two piscinae of 14th-century origin, but now mostly restored. They have subcusped cinquefoiled heads on shafted jambs with carved capitals, the sills having foiled basins and the backs of the recesses old stone ledges at springing level. The hood-moulds have foliage stops, the middle one also with the monogram A.T.G. (for Bishop A. T. Gilbert).

The three sedilia, west of the piscinae, one east of the vault shaft and two west of it, are also mostly modern. They have cinquefoiled pointed heads with foliage cusp-points. A modern label-stop has the monogram G.S.L. (for Bishop Gilbert de Sancto Leofardo). The stepped-up seats are at heights bearing no relation to the present floor level and only the middle seat is used.

Farther west in the third bay of the south wall are twin recesses of the 12th or early 13th century with jambs and trefoiled heads rebated for doors: the hooks for hinges remain in place and there are grooves in the reveals for upper shelves; they were probably the original piscinae converted afterwards into lockers. The partition between them, also the sills, are modern.

On the walls are a few faint traces of colour decoration of the 13th or early 14th century, including a complete roundel in the third bay on the south side immediately below the string-course. There is also a row of half-roundels of nearly the same radius below the string-course on the north side of the fourth bay. Although no actual colouring is left, they appear to contain the lower halves of draped figures and probably date from a period between the date of Bishop Gilbert de Sancto Leofardo's work and the insertion of the 14th-century window, with the concurrent lowering of the string-course to destroy their upper halves. That they were originally complete roundels like that on the south wall is suggested by the easternmost, which, being partly below the original higher string-course level, retains traces of part of the upper half of the circle. The roundels are emphasised by incised lines, and on the south wall of the same bay are similar incisions, but no traces of colour.

The vaulting of the fourth bay is decorated with the early 16th-century painting carried out by Bernardi for Bishop Sherburne. It is a symmetrical design of tendril-like foliage in green and brown, and in the north-east quarter is a scroll with the Wykeham motto: 'Maners makyth man.' Some of the vaultribs and most of the bosses also retain traces of colour.

The back of the high recess in the north side of the fifth bay has apparently a compact design of flowers and foliage on a yellow ground, but the design is very indistinct.

The tomb recess on the south wall of the fifth bay may have been that of Bishop Gilbert de Sancto Leofardo (d. 1304), but there is no evidence left to demonstrate this except that it is of the 14th century. The recess is 7 ft. 1 in. long and has shafted jambs with moulded bases and capitals; the segmental-pointed arch is cinquefoiled and has a hood-mould enriched with crockets, and a west stop carved as a priest's (?) head. The east end of the label dies on the vaulting shaft.

Under the recess have been placed two heavy tapering coffin-lids of marble, 5 ft. 7 in. long and of 12th or early-13th-century date. The tops are carved in low relief with croziers and, in the outer slab, a mitre. The tombs are probably those of Bishop Seffrid II (d. 1204) and Bishop Ranulph de Wareham (d. 1224). (fn. 9)

On the floor in the same bay on the north side is a similar coffin-lid with a crozier and mitre, and at the west end of it the inscription RADULPH[US. EPI]SCOP[US], clearly indicating the tomb of Bishop Ralph de Luffa (1091–1123).

On the north wall of this bay is a mural monument of alabaster and marble, to Bishop Thomas Bickley (d. 1596). (fn. 10) It has the painted kneeling effigy of the bishop in robes and ruff, praying before a desk on which is an open book. The back has a shallow roundheaded recess, flanked by black Corinthian columns; and the entablature has a dentilled cornice. The inscription is in a panel beneath the moulded shelf, and below is a carved base mould and apron with an oval panel and scroll ornament. Above are the arms, Argent a cheveron battled on both sides between three griffons' heads razed [sable] each charged with a besant, and motto HABENTI DABITVR T.B. The inscription sets out that Thomas Bickley, S.T.P., alumnus of Magdalen College, Oxford, Archdeacon of Stafford, Warden of Merton College and Bishop of Chichester, died at Aldingbourne in 1596, aged 78.

There are also monuments to Charles, 5th Duke of Richmond, 1860; Lord Arthur Lennox, 1864; John Farhill, 1830; and Charles, 7th Duke of Richmond, 1928; and a brass to Percival Webb, Prebendary of Firles, 1903. The brass lectern, in memory of Canon Rawson Ashwell, 1879, has a book-rest representing a pelican in her piety.

The walls inside have many casual scratchings and inscriptions, including some in 16th or 17th-century script, also some well-cut small crosses of possibly greater significance, and some genuine masons' marks.

An inscription on the south wall records that the chapel, extended and beautified by Gilbert de Sancto Leofardo, Bishop A.D. 1288–1304, was restored in memory of A. T. Gilbert, Bishop 1842–1870.


  • 1. S.A.C. xxviii, 38, quoting Cathalogus; R. Willis, Archit. Hist. of Chich. Cath. 31.
  • 2. Bp. Rede's Reg. (Suss. Rec. Soc.), p. 105; Arch. xlv, 194.
  • 3. Stat. and Constit. (ed. 1904), pp. 12, 72.
  • 4. Cal. Pat. R. 1301–7, pp. 162, 315; 1321–4, p. 6; Arch. xlv, 173. 'Little Hodley' is probably East Hoathly.
  • 5. Cal. Close R. 1413–19, pp. 89, 90; 1461–7, p. 110.
  • 6. R. Willis, loc. cit.
  • 7. The gates are said to be of Sussex iron and to have been taken from the Arundel screen.
  • 8. Walcott says the slab was found embedded in the wall of the south aisle of the nave (Arch. xlv, 168).
  • 9. The coffins must have been moved from a position near by, as Canon Michael Northburgh (d. 1382), by his will, desired to be buried at the entrance to the Lady Chapel near the three bishops buried there (i.e. the two above and Gilbert), and between Master Thomas Yong and the tomb inscribed Radulphus Episcopus (Lambeth Wills, Courtney 207; Arch. xlv, 195). A lead chalice, now in the show-case in the library, is said to have come from Wareham's coffin.
  • 10. This monument was moved from near the high altar: Dally, Chich. Guide, 46. It is shown where Bishop Story's monument now is on plan of 1658; cf. Arch. xlv, 172, note c.