Tucked away behind London’s Savoy Hotel is one of the country’s most unusual churches – The Queen’s Chapel Of The Savoy. This 16th century building (the last remnant of a hospital established by Henry VII for the homeless) has a unique status as, unlike its compatriots in the surrounding streets, it does not belong to the parish and diocese system of the Church of England – it is directly owned and controlled by the Queen in her capacity as Duke of Lancaster. She personally appoints the priest, a post currently taken up by the Reverend Professor Peter Galloway OBE who is a noted historian and educator, and directly funds the upkeep of the building.
As you might expect, the chapel has myriads of royal connections. For example, it houses two thrones at the rear which, while they’re not used by the Queen (she usually sits on a throne near the altar) have seen their fair share of royal bums on seats over the years – most recently by Michael, King of Romania, and his daughter who attended a service here towards the end of 2012. The stained glass windows also reward close examination, in particular the windows over the altar which mark the Second World War and the contribution of the Armed Forces, and the most recent addition – a glorious installation marking the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. This was designed by Scottish artist Douglas Hogg and was installed in November of last year – look closely and you’ll even discover corgis and a scene showing the Queen on horseback. In my opinion, the soon-to-be-installed window at the Palace of Westminster, made for the same purpose and funded by contributions from members of both Houses of Parliament, isn’t a patch on this one!
Other aspects of the chapel to note are the Armorial Bearings of previous monarchs set in the high ceiling and the plaque which commemorates the ceremony on 22 October 1946 which made the Queen’s Chapel Of The Savoy the official chapel of the Royal Victorian Order. This is the dynastic order of knighthood whose members are appointed for their distinguished personal service to the reigning Monarch. The last Grand Master, or head of the order, was Elizabeth The Queen Mother – the post is currently held by Anne, the Princess Royal (her husband, Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence, happens to be a Knight Commander of the Order).
Step outside the chapel and you’ll come across the small Lancaster Hall – again it has some notable features but the most interesting is the richly ornamented altar cloth which is kept securely in a glass case. This is used solely for Royal Victorian Order ceremonies and, amongst others, carries the Coat of Arms of a certain Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon, or the Queen Mum to you and I. The Queen Mother’s Coat of Arms shows a certain sense of humour – these outwardly rather serious emblems often carry little in-jokes, and in her case the appearance of both bows and lions are an affectionate reference to her maiden name. You can see a close up of the Coat of Arms here.
Also found in the complex of rooms next to the Queen’s Chapel Of The Savoy is the robing room, where the Queen dons her regalia when she attends services here. Amongst the artifacts are a fine altar cross and candlesticks from the late Victorian period – speaking to the Verger who showed me around, I was told that these were discovered abandoned and unprotected at the back of a shed in the grounds when he took up the post a few years ago. Other objects worth noting in this room are the central table, which comes from Hampton Court Palace, and the chairs – these were surplus to requirements at Buckingham Palace so have found their way here. There’s also a rather beautiful plaque which carries the profiles of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth and was made to mark their coronation in 1937.
There’s one other part of the Queen’s Chapel Of The Savoy that’s worth seeing if you have the opportunity – it’s peaceful garden, which sits behind the building and next to the Savoy Hotel. Amongst the plantings you’ll discover the old chapel bell which was cast, like most other London church bells it seems, over at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry.
The Queen’s Chapel Of The Savoy is normally open to the public from 9am to 4pm, Monday to Thursday, and everyone is welcome to attend the regular Sunday morning church service at 11am. Note however that it is closed during the months of August and September when the Royal Family take their annual holiday in Balmoral, as this is the time when most of the Queen’s London-based staff and servants also take their leave each year.
Historical Note: Royal Peculiars
The term ‘peculiar’ as used in the title of this post refers to the Royal Peculiars – these are the Anglican places of worship around the country which, through certain quirks of history, find themselves under the direct control of the Monarch rather than the Diocese and Parish system controlled by the Bishops of the Church of England. Other Royal Peculiars include the Collegiate Church of St Peter, Westminster (better known as Westminster Abbey), the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace and the two in the Tower of London, the Chapel of St John the Evangelist and the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula.