St Stephen's Chapel, Westminster: Visual and Political Culture, 1292-1941

Panorama of the Ruins of the Old Palace of Westminster, 1834, by George Scharf. © Palace of Westminster Collection (WOA 3793) http://www.parliament.uk/art

As the king's chapel in the Palace of Westminster, St Stephen's was rerebuilt and furnished over seventy years by Edward I, Edward II and Edward III, to create a lavish setting for royal worship, rivalling any in Europe.

Under Edward VI, the upper chapel was converted into the first permanent meeting place of the House of Commons. It survived until 1834, when it was destroyed by fire. In the nineteenth-century rebuilding of the palace, the surviving crypt of the chapel was sumptuously restored as a place of worship for both Houses of Parliament. On the footprint of the upper chapel, St Stephen’s Hall became the ceremonial entry-way to the neo-Gothic Palace of Westminster. As a monument to medieval kingship and a setting for parliamentary government, St Stephen’s has helped to shape the political culture of the nation.

For the first time, its full story is being told, pioneering new ways of integrating academic research with the latest in digital reconstruction. Findings are already being disseminated through conference papers and talks. Significant milestones will be a colloquium and exhibition at Westminster in 2015, followed by a major international conference the following year, at the Institute for Historical Research. Keep an eye on our webpages for updates and information.

A related project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust (Jan. 2013 to Dec. 2014), is publishing the rich archival sources for the building and furnishing of the medieval chapel. Two other AHRC-funded doctoral projects are also contributing to our research.

"This is an unprecedented opportunity to explore the significance of a space which has been at the heart of public life since the thirteenth century."
Dr John Cooper, Principal Investigator

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