Illustrated Dictionary of British Churches - Chapter House Definition

History and Architecture

Chapter House

A chamber used for administrative gatherings of a monastery of cathedral. Monastic settlements were ruled by a 'chapter', or administrative body of priors/abbots and monks, hence the name. A similar hierarchy of officials helped run the day to day operations of cathedrals, which often had a monastic foundation. Chapter Houses are often located in a separate building adjoining the abbey church or cathedral, often linked to a cloister walk.

The most common British design for chapter houses is a polygon, with a pointed external roof supported on a central column. The interior walls are lined with individual seats for chapter members, often outlined by arcading or piers, with canopies over each seat. Some of the best surviving examples of medieval chapter houses can be seen at Westminster Abbey, Wells Cathedral (editor's favourite!), Lincoln Cathedral, Salisbury Cathedral, York Minster, and Southwell Minster. The more striking of these structures have huge stained glass windows creating an extraordinarily light and spacious interior.

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