English Churches - Warwickshire

Guild Chapel, Stratford upon Avon


One of the finest examples in Europe of a purpose built Medieval Guild Chapel with the remains of C15th wall paintings


The Guild Chapel was built in 1269 by the Guild of the Holy Cross who were given permission to build a hospital and chapel in Stratford-upon-Avon for poor priests, as well as offering masses for the dead of the Guild. The Guild was the heart of Stratford's commercial, civic, social and religious life as well as providing a social ‘safety net’ for members who were ill and support for families when a member died. Most members were wealthy townsfolk but it also included the clergy and nobility. It grew in size and influence and was a significant land owner.

In the late C15th Sir Hugh Clopton left money for the rebuilding of the chapel and for the walls to be decorated with paintings. A magnificent Doom was painted over the chancel arch and the walls of the nave were covered with paintings of St George and the Dragon, the martyrdom of Thomas  Beckett and the Dance of Death. This picture gives an impression of just how stunning the Guild Chapel must have looked like.

The Guild was suppressed during the Reformation. Its property was confiscated and granted to the newly formed Corporation of Stratford. John Shakespeare arranged for the paintings to be covered with limewash. They were rediscovered during building work in 1809 and copies were made of them before they were again covered. The paintings were rediscovered again at the beginning of the C20th. The Doom was covered by a protective layer of wax which has lead to the darken of the picture over the last century.  More paintings were revealed when the gallery was removed in the 1950s.

Paintings made at the time reveal just how colourful and powerful the originals must have been.

Guild Chapel, Stratford upon
                Avon

Guild Chapel, Stratford upon
                Avon

Some of the paintings are now in very poor condition and are protected by the wooden panels round the bottom of the walls. A major restoration project is due to start this year on conserving the Doom over the chancel arch and the Death Poem which is protected by a wooden panel. The chapel is remaining open during this work so visitors can watch the restoration.

From the outside, the outside of the chapel is a rather plain building with battlements and tall crocketed pinnacles. Its tower can be seen all over Stratford upon Avon.
 
Guild Chapel, Stratford upon
                Avon

Inside, eyes are immediately drawn to the Doom painting above the chancel. The buildings in the top left hand corner represent Heaven. The remains of a semi circle can be seen at the top of the middle. This is all that is left of a rainbow. The figure of Christ above this has been lost as the ceiling of the church has been lowered.

Guild Chapel, Stratford upon Avon

Guild Chapel, Stratford upon Avon

There are more paintings on the west wall on either side of the organ. The figure in the arch to the side of the door is St George and the remains of the dragon can be seen on the west wall to the left of him.
 
Guild Chapel, Stratford upon
                Avon  Guild Chapel, Stratford upon Avon

Above the protective wooden panelling are large windows with plain glass, which flood the church with light. The pews face into the centre of the chapel and the candlesticks are now lamps. 

The modern stained glass east window features notable Stratford characters including John Shakespeare and Sir Hugh Clopton.

Guild Chapel, Stratford upon
                Avon

Guild Chapel, Stratford upon
                Avon    Guild Chapel, Stratford upon Avon

On the south wall is a memorial to Sir Hugh, erected by his descendent Sir John Clopton.

Guild Chapel, Stratford upon
                Avon

Hanging on the chancel walls are modern embroideries telling the legend of the Holy Cross and how Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine travelled to the Holy Land to find it. The location was revealed to her by  Judas Cyriacus who had been imprisoned. She found three crosses on the traditional site of Calvary and checked which was the true one by placing each on the body of a young girl who had recently died. 

Guild Chapel, Stratford upon
                Avon  Guild Chapel, Stratford upon Avon

Guild Chapel, Stratford upon Avon

The Guild Chapel is next to the timber frame Guildhall. After the Dissolution of the Guilds, this was taken over by the city as a courtroom on the ground floor and a school room above. This is now open as Shakespeare's schoolroom.

The Guild Chapel is open daily between 10.30-4.30. It is free to go in, although visitors are asked to leave a donation to its upkeep. The postal code is CV37 6EP and the grid reference is SP 201547.

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