The Chapel At King’s College Cambridge

I’m a big fan of fan vaulting (haha) because it is one of those architectural gems that looks like it defies sense. How can that fine tracery hold up the weight of the roof?

I started to caption this photo and it struck me that the word ‘chapel’ doesn’t sit very well with such a big and grand building.

The Oxford English Dictionary describes a chapel as ‘a small building or room used for Christian worship in a school, prison, hospital, or large private house.’

So King’s College Chapel doesn’t fit that description.

Merriam-Webster describes a chapel as a subordinate or private place of worship such as a place of worship serving a residence or institution, a small house of worship usually associated with a main church, or a room or recess in a church for meditation and prayer or small religious services.

The page about the chapel in the King’s College website describes the chapel as follows:

King’s College Chapel is a splendid example of late Gothic (Perpendicular) architecture. It was started in 1446 by Henry VI (1421-71) and took over a century to build. It has the largest fan vault in the world and some of the finest medieval stained glass.

Maybe it’s just me, and while Christianity is not my religion, I acknowledge that there is a ‘pull’ on the one hand towards venerating the deity in the most awe-inspiring way possible, and on the other hand, towards maintaining humility. So awe has its place. But calling this building a chapel? Surely not.

So while the first of the Merriam-Webster definitions fits the King’s College chapel in that is serves the institution of the college, small it is not. And magnificent building that it is, King’s College Chapel seems to me the idea of a chapel run riot and is wrong.

Bath Abbey

Over on the western side of England, is Bath Abbey. Here is a photo of its fan-vaulted roof that I took in 2011. I don’t know whether it is the second or third or thirty-third largest fan fault in the world, but it is a lovely building.

And as to why Bath Abbey is called an abbey, read this article on Bath Abbey.


  1. Lucy Brazier says:

    Beautiful! King’s College Chapel is one of my favourite places. It never ceases to amaze and inspire.


  2. The tracery here reminds me of a Peacock’s tail… Another example of seeming to defy gravity: )


    1. Yes, like a peacock’s tail, something that peahens find improbable…

      Thank you for your comment. It prompted me to look up the origin of fan vaulting. What I learned is that it is peculiar to English architecture because of the way the courses of bricks are laid on the ribs. I found it beyond me to understand the differences. Maybe if I was standing under a roof and examining it with notes in my hand, or maybe I would just get a crick in my neck.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Okay, so I’m going to blame this on you, lol; as I also went a’searching… Oh, what a massive amount of information on these amazing constructions, hey?! And just chock-a-block with links to this and that and on and on…


        1. The thing I have come to realise over the years is that education turns a flat landscape into three dimensions. I don’t expect I will become a maven about cathedral construction, but knowing something and just ‘looking’ helps to get more out of things. And I see you are similarly interested to follow things. So here’s to more eduction and following wikis wherever they will lead. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Aye, cheers to Life, Love & Learning!

          Liked by 1 person

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.