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 1907–53) 3.1:406–428; 10.2:2512–23. a. villien and h. leclercq, ibid. 3.1:390–399. w. henry, ibid. 1.1:1039–42. g. jacquemet et al., Catholicisme. Hier, aujourd'hui et demain, ed. g. jacquemet (Paris 1947–) 2:933–939. 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]
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.
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.
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.
Hence chapelry XVI.