Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula, Tower of London

Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula, Tower of London, London


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Mystery Worshipper: Mordicus
Church: Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula
Location: Tower of London, London
Date of visit: Sunday, 8 July 2007, 11:00am

The building

A low rectangular stone building in the northwest corner of the Tower grounds, just inside the wall. The interior is quite austere despite being well lit with large windows all the way round. There is a rather nice organ, dating from the 17th century, on the left hand side. The original chapel, named after the day on which it was consecrated, dates from 1100; the present building was erected for King Henry VIII in 1519-20. It is perhaps best known as the burial place of three queens, all beheaded: Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Lady Jane Grey. Queen Elizabeth I’s pet Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex, also lost his life here, as did Sir Thomas More. During renovations in the 19th century, Queen Victoria ordered that the remains of those named above be dug up and given a decent resting place. In the process, workers discovered 1500 bodies that had been buried under the chapel, which is astonishing considering how small the chapel is. Of the 1500, only 33 have been identified.

The church

St Peter ad Vincula is a Royal Peculiar, meaning that it is under the direct jurisdiction of Her Majesty rather than the bishop of the diocese. Those wishing to attend a religious service are asked to enter the Tower via the west gate, where a ticket is not required. Holy communion and sung matins, which the public are welcome to attend, are offered every Sunday morning except during August and the London Marathon. The yeoman warders, also called Beefeaters, who live and work in the Tower of London have St Peter ad Vincula as their home church. If their children are christened at the chapel, they are then eligible to be married there, with an honour guard of four yeoman warders wearing full ceremonial dress.

The neighborhood

The Tower of London is one of England's best known landmarks. It is positioned on the north bank of the Thames right next to Tower Bridge. The area around there is mostly docklands and offices, but there are a few residential sections as well.

The cast

The Revd Paul Abram, chaplain. A yeoman warder and a member of the congregation gave readings though they were unnamed.

What was the name of the service?

Sung Matins.

How full was the building?

A bit on the empty side, possibly something to do with the Tour de France.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

A fellow member of the congregation paid his compliments as we entered, and the warden handing out the books shook hands and said good morning.

Was your pew comfortable?

Standard wooden chair, possibly would have benefited from some padding.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Very quiet, just some general whispering and shuffling. The organist played some background music.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning. It's nice to see so many of you here today."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The New English Hymnal, Book of Common Prayer, service sheet.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ. There was also a choir, who sang some pieces unaccompanied.

Did anything distract you?

Every so often there was the sound of clapping from outside as tours finished. I found this rather distracting during the quieter parts of the service. The kneeler on the chair next to mine had a large image of a skull and crossbones on it with the words "Or Glory" underneath.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

A traditional Anglican service, with choir pieces, sermon, prayers – in short, the standard hymn sandwich that comprises sung matins.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

7 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

7 – I quite liked the way the chaplain started his sermon, mentioning people remembered on plaques throughout the chapel and pointing to each plaque in turn. He had a tendency to speak rapidly, though, and was a bit hard to understand at times.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

He spoke about the early evangelists and what they were sent out to do. Not all of us are called to preach, but we all need to show God at work in our lives by living Christian lives.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

I must say I was very impressed by the musical abilities of the choir.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

The chapel was rather chilly, even though it was a warm day outside. But I guess that's fitting for the Tower of London. And the thought of St Peter in chains doesn't exactly bring to mind curling up beside a cozy fire.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

As everyone seemed to be leaving, I decided to follow them out. The chaplain, joined by his wife, greeted everyone as they left. Mrs Abram asked me where I was from.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was none.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

7 – I did like the church, although sung matins is a bit more formal than I am used to, so I don't know how I'd feel about going every week.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

To be honest, it reminded me of the areas of my life where I need to show more of a Christian attitude.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

That we all need to witness to Christ by leading Christian lives.

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