The Lady Chapel is one of the most beautiful and tranquil areas within the Cathedral. It is set aside for prayer, and is often sought out by visitors and worshippers who want to spend a while in prayer or reflection. It is situated in the most eastern part of the Cathedral, opposite the Shrine of St Richard.
The original Lady Chapel was much smaller than at present and was apsidal (semi-circular) in shape. It was extended to three bays, probably under Bishop Hilary (1147-1169). It was further extended in the decorated style by Bishop Gilbert of St Leofard in the late 13th century. Around this time the original small Norman windows were enlarged, giving us the Gothic tracery with pointed arches and foils that we see today.
In 1750 the Chapel, due to neglect during the Reformation, was granted to the Duke of Richmond as a family mausoleum. A vault was constructed for this purpose with a raised floor above it. The east window and the lower parts of the other windows were plastered up and a fireplace installed at the east end. The three eastern bays then became the Cathedral Library which was reached, through an ante-room, by a flight of steps. Steps also went down into the Duke’s vault. The Lady Chapel remained in this state until 1871.
In 1867, the year in which the Cathedral was re-opened for worship after the rebuilding of the spire, the wall which enclosed the library was removed and in 1871 the Duke of Richmond allowed the top of the family burial vault to be removed and the floor lowered again. The Lady Chapel was then restored in 1871-2, and rededicated in 1872 in memory of Bishop Ashurst Turner Gilbert. At that time it also became the chapel of the Theological College. In 1891 the Lady Chapel was fitted out for weekday celebrations of Holy Communion, and it has been used for this purpose ever since.
A major refurbishment of the Chapel was carried out between 2007 and 2009. During this restoration some of the original colour incorporated into the fabric was discovered, and was reintroduced as part of the work; hence the bright vermillion and blue now colouring the vault ribs at the eastern end, along with green, red and gold decorative work on the bosses and capitals. This gives an idea of how colourful the whole of the medieval Cathedral would have looked.
The Stained Glass Windows
The stained glass windows in the Lady Chapel, all by Clayton and Bell of London (1873-1888), portray scenes from the life of Jesus and the important part that the Virgin Mary played in his life.
The story can be followed by reading the windows in pairs north and south, beginning on the south side with the Annunciation, the Visitation, and the arrival of Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem at the time of Christ’s birth, all shown in the first window.
Then we have the Nativity scene, the Presentation in the Temple, the Flight into Egypt, and the twelve year old Jesus in the Temple discussing the scriptures with the doctors of the law. This is followed by a depiction of Jesus in Joseph’s carpentry workshop.
The remaining north and south windows cover two events in the ministry of Jesus where Mary was also involved - the Wedding at Cana, and the occasion where Jesus tells his mother and brothers that those who do the will of God are also members of his family.
At the east end of the Chapel is a further window by Clayton and Bell. The scene here is of the Crucifixion, spread across five lights.
'Virgin and Child' Sculpture
The bronze sculpture ‘Virgin and Child’ in the Lady Chapel was given in 1988 by the Ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary in gratitude for their International Congress held in Chichester in 1986. The Society aims to show that in the Blessed Virgin Mary, Christians of many traditions may find a focus in their search for unity.
The sculpture was designed and made by the Sussex sculptor and letter-cutter John Skelton (1923 - 1999), who designed the cathedral font (at the west end of the south aisle). In 2009 the sculptor Philip Jackson was commissioned to add a flower-holder to the sculpture.
Other Points of Interest:
- the Reredos of alabaster with a mosaic representation of Christ appearing to his disciples after the Resurrection;
- the Lectern, in the form of a “pelican in her piety”, feeding her young with blood drawn from her breast - a medieval symbol for the love of Christ;
- the wrought-iron screen at the entrance which is believed at one time to have formed part of the Arundel Screen;
- the memorial tomb of Ralph Luffa, Bishop from 1091 to 1123, who founded the Cathedral after its transfer from Selsey in 1075;
- a new decorative door for the aumbry cupboard, sculpted by Jonathan Clarke in 2013;
- the ‘Christ in Judgement’ sculpture by Philip Jackson (1998), high above the Chapel entrance;
- on the vaulting near the western end of the chapel is a ceiling painting by Lambert Barnard (1485-1567). This painting narrowly escaped obliteration during work carried out in the early 19th century - it was protected by the stacked bookcases of the Cathedral library which was housed in the chapel at that time.