Chapter House

Canterbury Cathedral Chapter House West Window (detail). L-R: The (1)Murder and (3)Translation of Becket, (2)Scourging of Henry II 

Western Nave

Fire Watchers Memorial
FontGreat West Window

Eastern Nave

Pulpit Altar
Compass Rose

Martyrdom

Altar of the Sword Point
The Deans' Chapel

Western Crypt (North Aisle)

Ch. of Holy Innocents
St Nicholas Ch.
St Mary Magdalene Ch.

Eastern Crypt

Watching Chamber
"Transport"
Jesus Chapel

Western Crypt (South Aisle)

Huguenot Chapel
Our Lady Undercroft
St Gabriel Chapel

Pulpitum Steps

Royal Window Bell HarryGreat South Window

Choir

Parclose Screen
Archbishop's Throne
St Augustine's Chair

North Choir Aisle

Chichele Tomb
Bible Windows
Northeast Transept

Trinity Chapel North

Opus Alexandrinum
Miracle Windows
Henry IV Tomb
Becket Shrine

Trinity Chapel South

Corona Chapel
Black Prince
Miracle Windows

South Choir Aisle

St Anselm's Chapel
Bossanyi Windows
Southeast Transept

Southwest Transept

St Michael's Chapel
Whall Window
Crypt access & Exit

Great Cloister

Heraldic shields
South, East, North & West panes
Cloister Garth

Chapter House

Wagon Vault
Victorian stained glass

Hint. View the map ‘landscape’ on small screens.

MapThe Chapter House, the largest in England, was the daily meeting place of the Benedictine monks of the cathedral priory from the time of the first Norman Archbishop Lanfranc (1070-1093), until the dissolution of monasteries under Henry VIII in 1540.

The most most immediately striking features of the Chapter House are its stained glass windows at either end and, overhead, the magnificent, early 15th century wagon-vault roof in Irish oak. Also notice, at the eastern end, the Prior’s Seat (or Throne), flanked on either side by stone benches, which continue around the walls on either side.

The Chapter House is so-named because of the custom of reading a chapter from the Rule of St Benedict during the monks’ morning assembly, a meeting in which the day’s tasks were assigned and disciplinary matters were discussed. This historic linguistic connection explains why the ruling or advisory body of a cathedral is known today as ‘The Chapter’.

The original Norman-Romanesque chapter house dates from c.1077 and was rebuilt in 1304 under the direction of Prior Eastry. The chapter house as we see it today was substantially remodelled in Perpendicular style between 1405-1410, during the time of Prior Thomas Chillenden. The master mason was Stephen Lote. The height of the building was raised to accommodate enlarged stained glass windows at either end, and it was crowned with a magnificent wagon-vaulted (barrel-vaulted) ceiling in Irish oak.

Following the dissolution, pews, galleries and a pulpit were installed and the Chapter House was used for preaching sermons. In the tumultuous years (1624-1660) of the English Civil War and the Cromwell Protectorate, when much of the cathedral lay in ruins, the Chapter House was used for services and it became known as the Sermon House. The name persisted even after the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, and it continued to be used for services for another 75 years, until c.1735.

More recently, the Chapter House was the venue for the signing of the Channel Tunnel Treaty in 1986 by British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, and French President, François Mitterrand. 

What's here?

Orientation. Entering through the main door, the East Window and Prior’s Seat are directly ahead of us. The West Window is best appreciated from the centre of the Chapter House, looking back.

It is probable that the original stained glass in both this and west window opposite, dating from the early 1400s, was destroyed by the Puritans in c1642-3.

The east window was given by the Freemasons of Kent in 1896, to commemorate the 1300th Anniversary of the coming of St Augustine in AD 597, and the work is by Hemming & Co. A.O. Hemming (1843-1907) was a prominent stained glass maker of the Victorian era.

The tracery above the main lights contains the coats of arms of the Dioceses that formed the Province of Canterbury. The main window contains 21 portraits of figures associated with the history of the cathedral, arranged chronologically in three rows of seven.

Who’s Who in the East Window

Top Row

Middle row

Bottom row

(Ref. David Bell – A Guide’s Guide to Canterbury Cathedral §2.12(1))

The original glass of the west window was installed in the 1440s but it is not known what it comprised. As with the East window, much, if not all, of the original glass was destroyed by the Puritans in c.1643. The stained glass we see today was installed in 1903 and dedicated to the memory of Dean Frederick William Farrar (1895-1903), whose public appeal raised £20,000 to cover the cost of general restoration in the Chapter House, as well as the new stained glass. The window depicts historic events connected with the individuals portrayed in the East window.

The tracery of this window is filled with the heraldry of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, along with other arms and the figures of the four patron saints of the British Isles.

Who’s who in the West Window

Top row

Middle row

Bottom row

(Ref. David Bell – A Guide’s Guide to Canterbury Cathedral §2.12(2))

Where next?

Next Stop We have several options here. For the X Martyrdom, exit the Chapter House, turn left and go through the heavy wooden door on the left, at the corner of the cloister. For the X Western Crypt or X Choir (via stairs or lift) turn right and then right again into the passageway leading to the north door, about 50mts.