A hidden gem
- Posted July 23, 2010 by Helen in Architecture. Viewed 4278 times
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I returned to St. John's Chapel in Chichester today especially to take some more photos of this beautiful building, as requested by Stefan [photoblog.com]. St. John's is a rare example of a Georgian chapel which still has most of its original features. It was consecrated in 1813 as an extra place for the people of Chichester to worship as the six churches within the city walls were full to bursting. It was built as a 'proprietary chapel' - in other words it was outside the usual parochial system and people paid to buy or rent a pew so they could worship there. This also meant that it had a minister rather than a vicar and it could not be used for baptisms or burials. To maintain access for all, the central area was reserved for the poor of the city while the rich (who paid for their pews) had separate entrances and used the pews around the sides and in the gallery. The striking feature when you enter the chapel is its impressive three deck pulpit. The Minister would give his sermon (usually at least an hour in Georgian times) from the top deck where he could see everyone in the chapel, including those in the gallery - just to make sure no one fell asleep no doubt! I have played from the top deck and can confirm that it is not suitable for anyone who suffers from vertigo!
I spent about an hour in the chapel this morning and did my usual thing of looking for hidden details as well as taking the big architectural shots. Because worshippers bought or rented their pews it entitled them to customise them as they wished. This could include adding cushions for comfort (very necessary as these pews are not designed for comfort!) and I found a wooden drawer added under the seat of one pew - who knows what that was for.
St. John's was taken out of use for worship in 1973 as a result of dwindling congregations. It stood empty for about twenty years before it started being used as a concert venue. It has a wonderfully flattering acoustic and is used every summer for the Chichester Festivities. In recent years it has had lighting and heating reinstalled and there is a current project to raise funds to restore the organ - an historically important model, originally built in 1813 by G.P.England. The aim is to have the necessary £140,000 to bring it back into playing order in time for the chapel's bicentenary in 2013.
If you want to find out more about St. John's the Churches Conservation Trust has a webpage for it here [visitchurches.org.uk].
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