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A miniature church, established originally as a place of prayer or oratorium, in royal or episcopal residences. With the extension of Christianity to the rural areas, the establishment of an oratory as a place of worship for a local population gave the chapel a public function. In some sections the martyrium or memoria, a shrine erected to house the relics of a saint or to honor the place of his martyrdom, became a center for religious services. In the 5th century the councils gave these private centers of worship an official character by bringing them under the jurisdiction of the local bishop. The chapel remained, however, the possession of the founder and his heirs. Clerics attached to a private church often became subject to the will of the owner rather than to the jurisdiction of the bishop, and the clergy of the king's chapel played a major role in the management of the realm.

The etymology of the word "chapel" is based upon the capella of St. martin of tours, which the Merovingian kings kept in the oratory of their palace. This precious relic was the legendary cape Martin divided with a beggar and later beheld in a vision as worn by Christ Himself. The capella was carried into battle as a pledge of victory and used as a surety for the verification of oaths. Confusion between the oratorium, where the oath was administered, and the capella, upon which it was sworn, caused the oratory of the palace to become known as the Capella s. Martini, the chapel of St. Martin. The priest in charge of the royal oratory came to be called the chaplain from his office as capellanus, guardian of the cape. Under charlemagne this office gained important status and was sometimes exercised by a bishop.

At the same time the famous church of aachen was built as the royal chapel, setting the model for a type of ecclesiastical institution whose office and influence far exceeded the meaning of its name. The great architectural developments of the medieval centuries found original and characteristic expression in chapels independently constructed or integrally attached to a cathedral or monastic church. Notable examples may be found in the abbey church of saint-denis and the Sainte-Chapelle of louis ix. In modern times the word is applied to a variety of ecclesiastical buildings, smaller than churches and attached to universities, colleges, and hospitals. The papal chapel (capella pontificia ), originally the site of liturgical service within the lateran or the Vatican (see sistine chapel), is today the assembly of the sacred college of cardinals and of other dignitaries, both clerical and lay, meeting with the pope in solemn liturgical ceremonies.

Bibliography: Sources. Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Capitularia (Berlin 1826) v.2. hincmar, De ordine palatii, ch. 15 in Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Capitularia (Berlin 1826) 2.3:523. einhard, The Life of Charlemagne, tr. s. e. turner (Ann Arbor 1960). Vita Betharii, Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Scriptores rerum Merovingicarum (Berlin 1826) 3:615. suger, Abbott Suger on the Abbey Church of St. Denis and Its Art Treasures, ed. and tr. e. panofsky (Princeton 1946). Literature. h. leclercq, Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie, ed. f. cabrol, h. leclercq, and h. i. marrou, 15 v. (Paris 190753) 3.1:406428; 10.2:251223. a. villien and h. leclercq, ibid. 3.1:390399. w. henry, ibid. 1.1:103942. g. jacquemet et al., Catholicisme. Hier, aujourd'hui et demain, ed. g. jacquemet (Paris 1947) 2:933939. e. h. swift, Roman Sources of Christian Art (New York 1951). h. saalman, Medieval Architecture (New York 1962). o. von simson, The Gothic Cathedral (2d ed. New York 1962). f. l. cross, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (London 1957) 263.

[p. j. mullins]

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1. Building for Christian worship, not a parish-church or cathedral, often without certain privileges normally those of a parish-church.

2. Room or building for worship in or attached to a castle, college, great house, monastery, palace, school, or other institution.

3. Oratory in a burial-aisle, mausoleum, mortuary-chapel, or elsewhere, with an altar where Masses might be chanted (i.e. chantry-chapel), often with funerary monuments.

4. Screened compartment in a large church, usually in aisles, to the east of transepts, or to the east of the high-altar, with its own altar, separately dedicated, and often of great magnificence (e.g. Lady-chapels for veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as at Westminster Abbey). A chapel with its main axis on that of the nave of the church is called an axial chapel; those grouped around a semicircular end of a choir on radii of the apsidal east end are called radiating chapels, as in a chevet arrangement; and those disposed parallel to each other at the east end of a church, but not on the same alignment (as in Wells Cathedral (see drawing cathedral)), are echelon chapels.

5. Place of worship subordinate to the parish-church, created for the convenience of parishioners, such as a chapel-of-ease, when the parish was very large and distances great, or where populations increased.

6. Place of Christian worship other than buildings of the Established Church in England, so usually applied to a Nonconformist establishment. In Ireland it refers to an RC church, even in the early C21.

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chapel, subsidiary place of worship. It is either an alcove or chamber within a church, a separate building, or a room set apart for the purpose of worship in a secular building. A movable shrine containing the cappa, or cloak, of St. Martin was first called a cappella; hence a sanctuary that is not called a church. Though the churches of the early Middle Ages possessed only the single altar of the apse, chapels became necessary with the increase of relics and of devotions at altars sacred to numerous saints. At first they appeared as minor apses, flanking the main apse. After the 10th cent., in order to accommodate the increasing number of pilgrims, a complex series of radiating chapels was developed behind the high altar. In the 13th cent. chapels were added to the side-aisle bays of choir and nave. In England the strongly projecting transepts provided the favored space for a relatively small number of chapels. In France the Lady Chapel (dedicated to the Virgin) is the central chapel of the chevet and is sometimes larger than the others, while in England it occurs directly behind the high altar. Peculiar to English cathedrals are the small chantry chapels, mostly of the 14th and 15th cent., either built and endowed by individuals for their private Masses or serving to enclose the tombs of bishops and other churchmen. From the early Middle Ages, members of royalty had the right to an independent private chapel. Such are the separate building of the Sainte-Chapelle, Paris; St. George's Chapel at Windsor; and Henry VII's magnificent chapel at Westminster, London. In addition, there were royal mortuary chapels, the most celebrated being that of Charlemagne (796–804), at Aachen, since converted into a cathedral. Numerous lords of medieval castles and manor houses established private chapels, over which episcopal jurisdiction was enforced as completely as possible. The two main chapels at the Vatican are the Pauline Chapel (1540), designed by Antonio da Sangallo for Paul III, and the Sistine Chapel (1473), built by Sixtus IV and celebrated for its great fresco decorations by Michelangelo and other masters. Two of the most famous French modern chapels (built in the 1950s) are the chapel at Vence designed by Henri Matisse and the one at Ronchamp by Le Corbusier; both are freestanding buildings.

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chap·el / ˈchapəl/ • n. a small building for Christian worship, typically one attached to an institution or private house. ∎  regular services held in such a building: attendance at chapel was compulsory. ∎  a part of a large church or cathedral with its own altar and dedication. ∎  a room or building in which funeral services are held.

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chapel a small building for Christian worship; part of a large church or cathedral with its own altar and dedication. The word is recorded from Middle English and comes via Old French from medieval Latin cappella, diminutive of cappa ‘cap or cape’ (the first chapel being a sanctuary in which St Martin's cloak was preserved).
chapel of ease a chapel situated for the convenience of parishioners living a long distance from the parish church; the term is recorded from the mid 16th century.
Chapel Royal the body of clergy, singers, and musicians employed by the English monarch for religious services, now based at St James's Palace, London. Among members of the Chapel Royal have been Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, and Henry Purcell.

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chapel oratory in a large house, etc. XIII; compartment (with an altar) of a church XIV; parochial place of worship dependent upon a church XV; nonconformist place of worship XVII; printing office, association of journeyman printers XVII. — OF. chapele (mod. -elle) :- medL. cappella (dim. of cappa CAPE 1), orig. the sanctuary devoted to the preservation of the cloak (cappella) of St. Martin of Tours, later (c.800) extended to oratories attached to palaces or the like, and to parochial places of worship other than churches; cf. CHAPLAIN.
Hence chapelry XVI.

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chapel Place of worship, usually a separate area having its own altar within a church or cathedral. Side chapels are small rooms set into the wall of a cathedral apse, which often house the relics of saints. Many state and civic buildings, monasteries and convents have chapels for worship. A chapel also denotes a place of worship subordinate to a larger parish church, or a building used for services by nonconformists.

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a choir or body of singers; an association of printers, 1688; a chapter of a printers union at a certain press [modern].