Within the
University of Cambridge stands King’s College Chapel, an example of late
Perpendicular Gothic English architecture. As the History of this Chapel begins
to unwind, the scale of this Gothic building makes you wonder was King’s
College Chapel designed suitably for its purpose or was it just a symbol of
power? The chapel’s magnitude was inspired by Henry VI’s visit to
Winchester Cathedral. This led to an expanse of Cambridge town being bought, including
numerous hostels, a church and half a street which were all cleared to make way
for this notable Chapel, which at the time was to serve a college with only 20
Scholars seems too much of a status building than practical.  The
practicality comes within small sections of the Chapel, such as the building
process and the functions. These are the only few details which choose
practicality over status. The Chapel itself had a timber roof which was weather
proofed with lead due to its resistance to
corrosion, non-combustibility and malleability. In 1506, Henry VII paid
for the work to continue leaving enough money so the work could go on even
after his death; until it’s near completion in 1515. The Kings College Chapel is noted for its impressive acoustics. Stone Chapels are often well sound proofed from outside
noise, with the sound being reflected against the walls, this creates a sound larger
than life. As much as during the 1500’s the practicality of such an expansive
space for 20 people is thoughtless. The impact this Chapel has had on the
modern era is striking with the chapel having a world-famous Chapel
choir to take advantage of these acoustics also impacting the public as a
tourist attraction bringing in unplanned revenue to the city. This Chapel has
become a highlight of the city, many saying the city landscape would be
completely different without it. King’s College chapel has much more of a
fitting practicality today than it did 500 years ago. Although it did serve a
purpose from 1642–1651 during the Civil
war as it was used as a training ground by a Cambridge student. This made sure
the chapel would stay out of danger, making sure the most extravagant and time
consuming feature, the stained glass, was removed. The
political status of Kings College Chapel heavily overweighs the practicality
and purpose, not only the sheer scale of the project but also the time, money
and labour put into it. The Stone work within the chapel was extremely
ambitious, this meant it took 74 years to be completed. The interior stone work
consists of the world’s largest fan vault, which is a form of arch used to provide a space with a ceiling or roof in the Gothic style. ‘Structurally,
a fan vault is a solid stone ceiling carved into a pattern of radiating ribs in
the form of inverted half-cones. King’s College Chapel is the most lavish’1.
This explains the form of a fan vault and particularly focusing on how it’s
explained as “lavish”. The fan vault was constructed between 1512 and 1515,
this took months of laborious work perched on scaffolding to create this
masterpiece.   As you enter the building you are first
attracted to the fluted columns and then by the repeated armorials which bear
the symbols of the most powerful, and only recently united, families in the
These actions were evidently made to show off the skill that the working class
had within the 1500’s and financial power of the British. This need to outdo
each other has been present for thousands of years especially within the
Christian faith ‘Churches were rebuilt practically throughout the world, and
mainly in Italy and Gaul; and although most of them were very suitable ,
scarcely needing any alteration, all Christian people were seized with a great
desire to outdo one another in magnificence’3
. To add to the argument of the Chapel not being built for its purpose, the
king said it was ‘intended as a chantry chapel for himself in which Mass would
be said for the repose of his soul long after his death’ 4One major part of the Chapel was the stained glass
windows. They took from the starting of the build in 1441 to their final
completion in 1531, The importance of stained glass windows in Churches and Chapels
was key; they are said to have been made for the purpose of that “the pictures in the windows are there for
the purpose of showing simple people who cannot read the Holy Scriptures what
they must believe” – Abbot Suger of St Denis.5
These windows have been claimed to be some of the finest from their era with
only one out of twenty-six being a modern window, which was donated by King’s
alumnus Francis Stacey and dates from 1879. Four were made by Francis
Williamson and Symon Symondes, the first non-Englishman, Barnard Flower also
completed four windows. Flemish Hands completed the large 12 windows on either
side of the chapel and the large windows at the east and west. Finally the east
window and 16 others were completed by Gaylon Hone and three partners (two
English and one Flemish). The European imported workers showed the need for the
most talented in their field to create these windows. In a local town’s chapel,
this grandness for design wouldn’t be contemplated but for the King’s College
chapel this is a must. Not only the scale and time it took for these windows to
be completed but the pure amount needed for this extensive chapel shows the
particular need to surpass the Cathedrals and Chapels of others.Also within stands a Renaissance rood, this large wooden screen separates the nave from the altar and supports the chapel organ and is a prominent contrast to the gothic chapel. It
was built in celebration of Henry VIII marriage to Anne Boleyn in 1532–36,
with Sir Nikolaus Pevsner saying
it is “the most exquisite piece of Italian decoration surviving in England”.
If this rood is such as extravagance now imagine how much attention it would
have brought in 1530. This is a statement piece built by a king.  King’s College Chapel exudes
importance throughout. This piece was definitely built as a power status
commissioned by the king for the king with no thought of cost, size or
practicality, and although you may argue that it fits its purpose most incredibly
well within the modern era, being put to more practical use and used by the
million attracted there every year. During the 1500’s this Chapel was a power
symbol but today is a well utilized piece of our history.

Ian Sutton, Western Architecture (Singapore:
C.S. Graphics, 1999), p. 99.

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2 Jarrold Publishing, King’s College Chapel: an
architectural masterpiece and the man who told its story (2015)

3 Spiro Kostof , History of Architecture
Settings and Rituals, ed. by Greg Castillo (New York: Oxford University
Press, 1995), p. 299.

David Watkin, A History of Western
Architecture, 4th edn (London: Laurence King Publishing, 2005), p. 180.

Richard Stemp, The Secret Language of
Churches and Cathedrals (London: Duncan Baird Publishers, 2010), p. 36.