About the Project

Panorama of the Ruins of the Old Palace of Westminster, 1834, by George Scharf. © Palace of Westminster Collection (WOA 3793) http://www.parliament.uk/art

As a monument to medieval kingship and a setting for parliamentary government, St Stephen’s Chapel in the Palace of Westminster has helped to shape the political culture of the nation. Funded by the AHRC (2013-17), our project explores the history, art and architecture of the royal chapel which became the first dedicated House of Commons. This website provides access to the 3D visualizations modelled from our research.

As the king’s chapel in the Palace of Westminster, St Stephen’s was built and furnished over seventy years by Edward I, Edward II and Edward III, to create a setting for royal worship as lavish as any in Europe. When St Stephen’s was dissolved during the Reformation of Edward VI, the upper chapel became the meeting-place of the House of Commons. It survived until 1834, when the old Palace of Westminster was ravaged by fire. In the neo-Gothic new Palace designed by Sir Charles Barry, St Stephen’s Hall took the place of the former upper chapel while the lower chapel was ultimately restored as a place of worship. Decorated with wall-paintings depicting ‘the building of Britain’, St Stephen’s remains at the heart of the Houses of Parliament to this day.

We have researched the full story of St Stephen’s Chapel for the first time, pioneering new ways of integrating academic research with the latest in digital visualization. Touch-screen versions of our 3D models are on display in the Palace of Westminster and the Jewel Tower. Also available is a film featuring sacred music composed for St Stephen’s Chapel, sung by the Choir of Gonville and Caius College Cambridge in the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft (formerly the lower chapel of St Stephen). Our research was presented at a conference at Portcullis House in September 2016, and is being published in a series of books and articles.

A Follow-On AHRC project, ‘Listening to the Commons’, runs from February 2017 to July 2018. Our project is informing discussions about Restoration and Renewal of the Palace of Westminster. More information about the history of the Palace of Westminster is available on the Living Heritage section of the UK Parliament website.

"St Stephen’s Chapel has many layers to its history, and its influence on British politics is still with us. To work so closely with Parliament on this project has been an absolute privilege"
Dr John Cooper, Principal Investigator

"The shape and architecture of St Stephen's Chapel frame so many aspects of how we do our business in the Commons today. We shouldn't be bound by our history, but we should understand it better. This University of York project is enabling us to do just that"
Chris Bryant MP