The Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula

The Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, June 2015

Although the current chapel of St Peter ad Vincula dates from the reign of Henry VIII, there has been a place of worship on this site for over a thousand years, predating even the White Tower.  The earlier church was, like many other castle-chapels, 'taken-into' the later Norman castle. Little work is recorded on the chapel before the reign of Henry III, who in 1240 repaired the existing building and replaced the roof, as well as improving the internal decoration. This work lasted for 46 years, before his son, Edward I, demolished the entire church and rebuilt it at a cost of £317.8s.3d in 1286. Unfortunately no images survive of this chapel before it was badly damaged by fire in 1512.                                 

After this fire, the chapel was not rebuilt straight away, with construction starting in 1519 and the final payment for the new building being made in September 1520. It is this Tudor chapel which still remains today.

The current chapel’s interior has been considerably altered since its construction. As the Tower of London’s role as a royal residence diminished in the later sixteenth century, so the chapel's changing configuration increasingly reflected its role as the Tower’s parish church. This included a new pulpit and wainscoting in the late seventeenth century and the installation of a gallery on the north and west walls in the eighteenth century.  Generations of Tower residents were baptised, married and buried in the chapel. They were joined, as it were, by the many people who were executed in the sixteenth century and buried here, including Sir Thomas More, John Fisher and Thomas Cromwell, as well as Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard.

Despite frequent use, the chapel was not well maintained, and in 1865 the chaplain wrote to the Office of Works complaining about its poor state, observing that the walls were crumbling with damp, amongst other problems. In response, plans were prepared by the architect Anthony Salvin in 1867; work did not take place, however, until 1876. This extensive programme of repairs saw many of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century additions removed, including the gallery. The chapel’s floor was also replaced as it had begun to collapse owing to the large number of burials which had taken place in the chapel since the sixteenth century. Many of the remains which were found were moved to the chapel’s newly-created crypt. It was also during these works that the chancel was excavated and the bodies of Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey, amongst others, were identified. To note these discoveries, Salvin installed the marble floor which still survives in the chancel and indicates their final resting places.

Most of Salvin’s other work to the interior was removed in the restorations over the winter of 1970-1971, including the pews, pulpit and reredos, to produce a more modern, less cluttered, arrangement. In 2014, the chapel was once again restored, with new furniture and lighting being installed in the chapel, in addition to the works to improve the crypt, providing office space and facilities for the choir.

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