This is a picture of the Royal Chapel of St Peter Ad Vincula, which is located in a picturesque corner of the Tower of London.
An innocuous-looking building, it’s a real joy to behold from the inside. On the day we visited, there was a soft light coming through the windows and illuminating the altar. It’s an almost romantic setting…if you ignore the fact that underneath the floors are the bodies of three Queens of England and a number of Dukes and Lords of the kingdom too. Most of them beheaded, naturally.
A fascinating fact is that in order to make the bodies decay quicker – in order to make room for other headless dignitaries – the corpses were buried in quicklime. This fact was gleefully shared by the entertaining Beefeater who gave us a brief but dramatic history of this small part of the Tower of London.
Who’s buried in the Chapel?
Henry VIII was responsible for several of the inhabitants of the Chapel: his second and fifth wives are buried there – Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard can claim the Chapel Royal as their final resting place.
A victim of some politically ambitious gentlemen, the ‘9 Days Queen of England’, Lady Jane Grey. She was put on the throne as a figurehead (and a front) for the people who had put her there, but when their coup ended, she was executed for her part in the plot.
Another story – which I only half-remember – is that one of the beheaded inhabitants of the chapel was actually exhumed when it was remember that he had royal blood but hadn’t previously had an official portrait done. Apparently they stitched his head back on to enable an artist to capture his likeness. The Beefeater quipped that the portrait was completed quickly because the subject wasn’t fidgetting.
Just a brief note on the building – there has been a chapel on the site since Henry I’s time and was consecrated on 1st August, although the exact year isn’t known. The chapel has been rebuilt twice since then, once in the 13th century and again following a devastating fire in 1512. It has undergone a number of repairs in the intervening years.
I noted that it now has electric lights – tastefully done though – there are no ugly wires detracting from the beauty of the place.
The existing building was built in Henry VIII’s time by Sir Richard Cholmondeley. The name – St Peter ad Vincula – refers to St. Peter’s imprisonment under Herod Agrippa in Jerusalem.