The Restored Crypt of St. Stephen’s, the Chapel of the Houses of Parliament

The Restored Crypt of St. Stephen’s, the Chapel of the Houses of Parliament. From the 1865 The Illustrated London News. [Click on image to enlarge it.]

Commentary from The Illustrated London News

Beneath St. Stephen’s Chapel, which is now St. Stephen’s Gallery, in the New Palace of Westminster, running between the upper end of Westminster Hall and the central lobby of the two Houses of Parliament, there is an underground chapel or crypt which was built by Edward I. towards the end of the thirteenth century, sometimes called “St. Mary’s Chapel in the Vaults,” but more commonly St. Stephen’s Crypt. The entrance to this chapel is in Old Palace-yard. It was much injured, not by the fire which destroyed the Houses of Parliament in 1831, but by the carelessness of those employed subsequently in the building of the New Palace. They used the venerable chapel as a storehouse or lumber-room, so that the sculptured pillars, windows, mouldings, and other decorative features were sadly defaced. It is satisfactory to show by the Illustration in our present Number that this ancient building (almost the only portion which remains to us of the old Palace at Westminster) has lately been restored with much care, and is now to be used ns the chapel of the New Palace at Westminster, according to the original design of the late Sir Charles Barry. The restoration has been carried out by Mr. Edward M. Barry, in whose charge the New Palace has been placed since the death of his father, in 1800.

The length of the chapel is 90 ft., and it is 28 ft. wide, and 20 ft. high. It consists of five bays, the easternmost of which is raised to form a sanctuary. There is a private entrance at the north-west comer from the palace, and access is given to the public by a door near the angle at the southern end of Westminster Hall down a flight of stone steps, thence through a door on the light hand. On entering the vaulted chamber, the spectator is struck with its fine proportions and sombre effect, its bold moulded groinings, and richly sculptured bosses. The stained-glass windows, seven in number, are by Mr. Hardman, and represent the ministry and martyrdom of St. Stephen. The walls beneath the windows are covered with alabaster and inlaid marble, disposed in a rich diaper pattern, and the whole ot the groining is decorated with arabesques and figures executed on gold grounds.

The old bosses have been carefully preserved, and represent the martyrdom of St. Stephen, St. John, St. Catherine, and St. Lawrence, and also St. George and the Dragon, beautifully executed. The east wall is panelled with deep recessed tracery, with full-length figures on a gold ground. The decoration of this part of the chapel, the easternmost bay, forming the sacranum, was intrusted to Messrs. Clayton and Bell, of Regent-street. There are nine panels, the centre of which is to contain a cross. The other eight panels represent St. Peter, St. Stephen, St. Oswald, St. Ethelredn, St. Edmund, St. Edward the Confessor, St. Margaret pf Scotland, and St. Edward the Martyr. In the roof also of this portion of the chapel Messrs Clayton and Bell have painted their angels, with a rich ornamental design all round. The rerdos is to be a low structure, of marble and mosaic, and is not yet completed. All the columns are of polished Purbeck marble, and have been executed by Mr. Field, who has also carried out all the marble and alabaster work. The decoration of three of the bays, without any figures, has been done by Mr. Grace, of Wigmore Street, from the designs of the architect.

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“Restoration of St. Stephen’s Crypt, Palace of Westminster.” The Illustrated London News (11 February 1865): 137. Illustration on p. 132. Internet Archive. Web. 23 November 2015.

Last modified 23 November 2015