Saint George was born around 280 AD and died on 23 April 303 AD.
He is the patron saint of England and on the panel behind the chapel’s altar is depicted as a knight in armour slaying a dragon. This is a myth. George was an officer in the Roman army in the Guard of Diocletian, who ordered his death for failing to recant his Christian faith. He was executed in Nicomedia, now modern day Turkey, and then venerated as a Christian martyr.
The precise date of the chapel’s construction is unknown but is probably around 1225. The outer walls of the Norman building were pierced to add the two chantry chapels of St George and St Clement, in the Early English Gothic architectural style.
In 1368 King Stephen granted a charter to the Chichester City Merchants’ Guild of St George, who adopted the chapel and provided for a chantry priest to pray for the souls of the departed. The first mass of the day (The Morrow Mass) was traditionally celebrated here allowing early morning labourers to worship before the working day. All this was suppressed under the Abolition of Chantries Acts, 1545 and 1547.
The Royal Sussex Regiment
The chapel was restored in 1921 as a memorial chapel for the Royal Sussex Regiment.
The names of over 7300 soldiers who fell in World War I are inscribed in the oak panels surrounding the west and south walls, together with those of The Sussex Yeomanry.
Over 1000 names from the Second World War are recorded in the Book of Remembrance by the altar. An official and more detailed record of all who fell in both World Wars is held in the Vergers’ Office and at the Regimental Association offices in Eastbourne.
The Maltese Altar Cross was presented by the City in 1951 when the regiment received the honorary freedom of Chichester and the two candlesticks are from the Officers’ Mess.
The regiment was disbanded in 1966 and amalgamated into the Queen’s with the Royal Kent’s and Middlesex Regiments, and later in 1992 with the Royal Hampshire Regiment, to form the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment. After it was disbanded, seven of its colours were laid up to be displayed until they disintegrate.
Art and Furnishings
The restoration in 1921 was extensive with the stone and oak work assembled by Norman and Burt of Burgess Hill.
The altar and splendid reredos of St George slaying the dragon was designed by PG Bentham of Chelsea; the Maltese cross by Laurence Taylor of London.
There are numerous brasses to past colonels and other dignitaries of the regiment.
The wrought iron gates and screen were constructed by G Hobbs and Son of Hampstead and inscribed above are the dates 1914 – 1919 rather than the more usual 1918 because the Treaty of Versailles officially ending the conflict was not actually ratified until June 1919.
The badges of both St George and the regiment are affixed to the gates and also appear on the kneelers.
Relics of the chapel’s previous medieval history include a piscina, the shallow basin placed near the altar, and an aumbry, a recessed cabinet in the wall for storing sacred vessels.
The ledge abutting the south wall, continuing round the Nave, goes back to the days when all worship was conducted in the standing position. The ledge was a concession to human frailty where the sick and elderly could sit down, hence the expression “The weakest go to the wall”.
Windows of the Chapel
The eastern window shows the Acts of St John.
The western window shows the Acts of St Paul and was installed in 1852 by John Hardman to a design by Augustus Pugin. It was given by Canon Pilkington in memory of his parents.
Augustus Pugin (1812-1852), is arguably the greatest British architect and designer of the nineteenth century. Pugin was responsible for an enormous number of buildings, and also for countless beautiful designs for tiles, metalwork, furniture, wallpaper, stained glass and ceramics. He pioneered the Gothic Revival style and his work culminated in the interior design of the Palace of Westminster.