Henry VII’s Lady Chapel, Westminster Abbey

This year sees the 500th anniversary of the consecration of Henry VII’s Lady Chapel in Westminster Abbey.  The anniversary  is being commemorated by a series of events at the Abbey.  Last night’s event was  a *free* lecture by Christopher Wilson, Emeritus Professor of Architectural History at University College London, on the architecture and fittings of the Lady Chapel, entitled “Of suche as apperteigne to the gifte of a Prince”.

It appears from the sparse surviving documentation that work on the Lady Chapel began in 1503, almost certainly under the supervision of the Master Mason Robert Jannings, and was substantially complete by 1508.  The Lady Chapel is the very pinnacle of the Perpendicular Gothic, and in its time, it was referred to – by John Leland – as “orbis miraculum” (“the wonder of the world”).

1 - General view of interior (by Canaletto)

Perhaps the most famous feature of the  interior is the truly spectacular fan-vaulted ceiling, from which  pendants drip like drops of Christ’s blood.  The similarly delicately-wrought and life-like statuary is almost certainly the work of Brabantian masters.

On the outside, too, the “domelets” resemble those in depictions of Jerusalem in Netherlandish paintings.

The Lady Chapel houses the tombs of Henry VII and his wife,  in the apse, and also those  of Edward VI, Elizabeth I, Mary I, James I and Charles II.  It was evidently also originally intended to re-house the tomb to Henry VI, but that lies still in   St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle, as it has since 1484.


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