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History

Chapter House

The Chapter House in the East Cloister was a meeting place where the monks gathered with the abbot to ‘hold chapter’: to pray, read from the rule of St Benedict, discuss the day’s business and when the abbot decided on punishments.

It was probably begun in 1246 and completed around 1255 as part of Henry III's re-building of the Abbey and is one of the largest of its kind (internally 18 metres or 60 feet). It is octagonal in shape with tiered seating for up to eighty monks and an imposing central pillar, fanning out to a vaulted ceiling. Henry of Reyns was the supervising master mason, probably with Master Aubrey.

Chapter House Vault Westminster Abbey Copyright

The Chapter House's vaulted ceiling

Wall paintings still remain in many of the arches and depict scenes from the Apocalypse in the Book of Revelation. The Last Judgement, dating from about 1390, is shown on the east wall. Large figures of the Annunciation (the Virgin Mary and Archangel Gabriel) stand inside above the doorway. Around this doorway are small seated figures representing a 'Tree of Jesse'. The floor has one of the finest medieval tile pavements in England.

chapter house mural.jpg

Part of the Last Judgement wall painting

The Chapter House was also the place where Parliament met for a while in the 14th century before transferring across the road to the Palace of Westminster. After the monks left in 1540 it was used until 1863 as a repository for State records. The room was rescued and restored by the Abbey's Surveyor Sir George Gilbert Scott Between 1866-1872 he reconstructed the stone vault and roof and re-instated and re-glazed the windows. Much of this stained glass was damaged during air raids in the Second World War but some was salvaged and re-used in the post war glazing scheme.

In the covered entrance to the Chapter House you can see what is claimed to be the oldest door in Britain, believed to date back to the 1050s.

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Britain's oldest door

Further reading

Chapter House and Pyx Chamber Guide

Westminster Abbey Chapter House, the history, art and architecture... edited by W. Rodwell and R. Mortimer, 2010

At different times of the day, or in different seasons, the light falling in the Abbey will light up something that you have walked past a million times and never seen before.

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Vanessa, Head of Conservation

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