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Royal Peculiars- Chapel of St Mary Undercroft

The third Royal Peculiar that we will be travelling to today is the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft, which is a Church of England chapel within the Palace of Westminster. St Mary Undercroft was completed in 1297 by King Edward I, further developed by King Edward II and eventually finalised by King Edward III in 1365. Initially the chapel was a crypt below St Stephens Chapel and had fallen in to disuse, it is believed that the chapel was used as a wine cellar and even as stabling for Oliver Cromwell’s horses. In 1834 a fire raged through St Stephens Chapel and it was this disastrous turn of events that saw St Mary Undercroft return to its former glory as a place of worship.

The Chapel was heavily restored between the years 1860 and 1870 by Edward Barry, who was the son of Charles Barry the architect of the current Palace of Westminster. Edward Barry did all he could to restore the chapel to its former medieval decoration as well as vaulting in a neo-gothic style, a style which is still apparent in the chapel today.

The Chapel of St Mary Undercroft is of course a Royal Peculiar, meaning it is outside the jurisdiction of a bishop and is under the control of the Monarch. The case for St Mary Undercroft becoming a chapel again after its restoration and thus a Royal Peculiar was heavily debated, it was however decided that the chapel would be used again for the purpose it was built for.

The body of Baroness Thatcher enters St Mary Undercroft.

The body of Baroness Thatcher enters St Mary Undercroft.

Though the chapel is under the control of the Monarch, they do not personally control the chapel as they exercise this control through the Great Lord Chamberlain. Black Rod, who is Secretary to the Great Lord Chamberlain, also has the responsibility for managing the use of the Chapel. Children of Peers have the opportunity to use the Chapel as a wedding venue whilst Members of Parliament and Peers are able to use St Mary Undercroft as a place of Christening.

In April 2013 the body of former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, was kept in St Mary Undercroft the night before her funeral, an honour which was also bestowed to Tony Benn, the former Labour politician before his funeral in March 2014.

Photo Credit: UK Parliament via photopin cc
Featured Photo Credit: RobW_ via photopin cc

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