Delve Deeper - The Chapel of St Michael

The Sailors' Chapel

This chapel has been furnished as a memorial chapel to the Royal Navy and the people of West Sussex who gave their lives at sea in World War II and have no known graves. It was dedicated by Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh in July 1956 as ‘The Sailors’ Chapel’.

A book containing 1,300 names of those who perished is kept in a display cabinet against the west wall and the pages are turned at irregular intervals.

Hanging in the north west corner of the chapel is the White Ensign of Admiral Sir Charles Little, which was flying on the mast of HMS Fearless when accepting the surrender of the German Fleet of 74 ships in November 1918 and escorting them to Scapa Flow. The following year, the German Commander heard that the Peace Treaty had not been signed as expected, so thinking war had been resumed, ordered the scuttling of all the 74 German ships, the men escaping on lifeboats and rafts. 

A plaque on the east wall records the sinking of HMS Broadwater off Newfoundland in 1941 with the loss of 45 men. HMS Broadwater had been built as an American Destroyer in 1919 before being turned over to the Royal Navy in 1940. She was adopted and modernised by subscription from Worthing, Sussex.

Visitors to the chapel will notice a stained glass window on the north wall representing Christ rescuing Peter from the sea after he had tried to walk on water.

The silver bell on the west wall is from the last HMS Sussex, and was given to the ship by the people of Sussex. The bell was then given to the Cathedral for safe-keeping after HMS Sussex was broken up.  There have been four ships named Sussex, the first being in 1652, of which there was a model made in 1956 by Mr J Glossop, an official Admiralty model-maker.  This used to hang in the south arch of the chapel but after some extensive restoration was placed in a glass cabinet. But on 23rd November 2017, the model of Sussex was re-hung, this time in the east arch of the chapel.

The upper part of the north tower suffered from storm damage in 1636 and was not rebuilt until 1901 by J. L. Paterson, who was also the architect of Truro Cathedral. It is a near copy of the south tower.

The ceiling was colourfully decorated in 2000 using much gold leaf.

Flags in the Chapel

The Red Ensign (Merchant Navy) - high on the west wall in the south corner.

The White Ensign (Royal Navy) - high up in the west wall on the north corner.

The other flags, lower down, are naval association flags.

Sir George Murray

Sir George Murray 1759 – 1819, whose memorial is on the north wall, became Mayor of Chichester in 1815 following his father, two brothers and an uncle after he had retired from the Navy. While a Captain in the Navy, he served under Lord Nelson and distinguished himself at The Battle of Copenhagen in 1801, which is illustrated on the memorial.

Sir George Murray’s father-in law died in August 1805 and because Sir George was executor to his father-in-law’s will he was not available to go to Cadiz with Lord Nelson as his ‘Captain of the Fleet’ in September 1805. Nelson declined to appoint a replacement saying, ‘None but Murray will do,’ and thus Sir George was absent from the Battle of Trafalgar in October 1805.

Re-dedication of the Sailors' Chapel on 'Sea Sunday' -  9 July 2017

On Sunday 9th July 2017, 'Sea Sunday', the re-dedication of the Sailors' Chapel took place at a special Evensong service in the Cathedral. 

The Chapel had been substantially restored and refurbished over the previous eighteen months following a generous bequest from the late Mrs Joan Drewett. Together with a donation from Chichester Cathedral Friends, this money was used to conserve and refurbish the reredos (the ornamental screen behind the altar) returning it to its former glory, and then installing it into the chapel.

The reordering of the chapel took place over several months to allow for the installation of the magnificent 1910 reredos by Somers Clarke to the west wall of the chapel. The painted wood reredos was removed from behind the High Altar in 1965 and had been in storage in the triforium. To make way for the installation of the reredos, the silver bell, from the last HMS Sussex, was moved from its previous location and rehung on the north wall of the chapel. 

Organised by the Sailors' Society, 'Sea Sunday' is observed in churches all over Britain and is a service held to highlight the challenges seafarers face everyday.

Over 150 people attended the special re-dedication service, with invited guests attending from a wide seafaring community, including those from the Royal and Merchant Naval Associations, maritime charities, Sea Cadets, yachting and sailing clubs, RNLI and harbour ports.  The re-dedication service affirmed the Cathedral's commitment to pray for all members of the seafaring community and to provide a place in the Cathedral in which they are particularly held in mind.