01 June 2022

How the Chantry Chapel has survived
as the oldest building in Buckingham

The Chantry Chapel of Saint John the Baptist is the oldest surviving building in Buckingham (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

I spent a day in Buckingham last week, and, of course, visited the Chantry Chapel of Saint John the Baptist, the oldest surviving building in the town.

Few buildings in Buckingham date to before the 18th century because a large fire destroyed much of the town in 1725. But the chantry chapel survived, and is tucked away on Market Hill in a cosy corner off the Market Square.

Over the centuries, this chapel has had many uses, including hospital, chapel, school and, more recently, second-hand bookshop and coffee shop.

The Chantry Chapel was built in the late 12th century as part of Saint John’s Hospital. It was granted to the Master of the House of Saint Thomas of Acon in London, and it became a chantry chapel in 1268, founded by Matthew de Stratton, Archdeacon of Buckingham.

The Royal Latin School was founded in the chapel in 1423, with the chantry priests probably serving as the first schoolmasters. A schoolmaster’s house was added to the north. The school was originally established to teach boys the Trivium: Latin grammar, logic and rhetoric.

The Chantry Chapel retains the original Romanesque doorway (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The present building dates from the 15th century, when John Ruding, Archdeacon of Lincoln, undertook rebuilding work in 1471 and 1481, incorporating the Norman doorway. Ruding also gave the school its motto, ‘Alle May God Amende,’ in 1471.

The chantry chapel was dissolved, as were other chantries, at the Tudor Reformation, and it was known as the Royal Latin School from ca 1540. In 1548, King Edward VI granted a charter for the school, for 30-40 pupils, with an endowment of £10 and with 12 trustees.

The school endowment of £10 8s ½d from a separate chantry in Thornton was transferred to the school at Saint John the Baptist in Buckingham in 1597. From that date, the Royal Latin School inherited royal status and a requirement to teach six boys.

At several times in its history, the chapel has been near to decay. A major fire in 1696 destroyed the Master’s House which was rebuilt by Alexander Denton, complete with a garden. The building was restored at the expense of Earl Temple of Stowe in 1776.

By 1781, the chantry chapel was also serving as a Sunday School, said to be only the second Sunday School in England.

The chapel was twice restored by public subscription, in 1857 and again in 1879, under the direction of Sir George Gilbert Scott.

By the 1870s the school had 65 pupils, including 25 boarders) and four masters, and became known as Saint John’s Chapel Grammar School and Saint John’s Royal Latin School.

Inspectors advised the trustees in 1898 that the old buildings were totally inadequate and unsuitable for modern educational requirements. Buckinghamshire County Council agreed to establish the school on a new site on Chandos Road, and the Royal Latin School moved from the Chantry Chapel in 1907.

The chapel was bought by public subscription In 1912 and given to the National Trust. Since then, it has been open to the public as a café and second-hand bookshop.

The Chantry Chapel retains the original Romanesque doorway. This is an aisleless rectangle, built of uncoursed limestone rubble with limestone dressings and a plain-tile roof.

The Norman doorway is near the middle of left side with one order of shafts with leaf capitals, imposts with palmette-in-zigzag ornament, an inner arch with ornaments of shallow pointed-arched arcading, a chevron ornament to the outer arch and to the hoodmould. The gabled bellcote at the apex was added in the 19th century.

The chapel is a Grade II* listed building since it was added to the list by English Heritage in 1952. It was closed when I visited Buckingham last week, but a sign outside indicates the National Trust has plans to reopen it soon.

The National Trust has plans to reopen the chantry chapel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Praying with the Psalms in Easter:
1 June 2022 (Psalm 98)

‘Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises’ (Psalm 98: 4) … singers and musicians in an evening street concert in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Before this day begins, I am taking some time this morning to continue my reflections in this season of Easter, including my morning reflections drawing on the Psalms.

In my blog, I am reflecting each morning in this Prayer Diary in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;

2, reading the psalm or psalms;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Psalm 98:

Psalm 98 is sometimes known by its Latin name Cantate Domino , and many people are familiar with this is as a canticle in Anglican liturgy. In the slightly different numbering system in the Greek Septuagint and Latin Vulgate, this psalm is counted as Psalm 97.

Psalm 98 is the sixth in a series of psalms (Psalms 93-99) that are called royal psalms as they praise God as King. Like Psalm 33 and Psalm 96, it calls for singing ‘a new song.’

According to the Midrash Tanchuma, Psalm 98 is the tenth and final song that the Jewish people will sing after the final redemption.

Grammatically, the reference to a shir chadash (שיר חדש, a new song) in verse 1 is a masculine construction, in contrast to the shira (שירה, song) mentioned throughout the Hebrew Bible, a feminine construction. Thus, the Midrash teaches that the shir chadash is a song of the future.

Psalm 98 is an invitation to sing ‘a new song’ marking new evidence of God’s rule. With truth, or his right hand, and power, he has won the victory for his people Israel. Note how the word victory word occurs three times in the first three verses.

God has triumphed over all who seek to overthrow his kingdom. All peoples can see that Israel is right in trusting him. Then, as when the people groaned in their oppression in Egypt (see Exodus 2: 24), he recalls his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and his promise to lead them and protect them. All peoples will see his saving acts.

The earth, sea, floods, hills and all creation are to acknowledge God’s rule and be joyful. People of all lands are invited to join in. God’s coming to judge the world will be a truly marvellous event. He will judge us, but his judgement will be perfectly fair and equitable, for he is righteous.

In Jewish tradition, Psalm 98 is the fourth of six psalms recited during the Kabbalat Shabbat or Welcoming the Shabbat service. It is one of the additional psalms recited during the morning prayer on Shabbat in the Sephardi tradition.

‘Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody’ (Psalm 98: 5) … King David with the lyre in a sculpture in Saint Botolph with Aldgate, London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 98 (NRSVA):

A Psalm.

1 O sing to the Lord a new song,
for he has done marvellous things.
His right hand and his holy arm
have gained him victory.
2 The Lord has made known his victory;
he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.
3 He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the victory of our God.

4 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
5 Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
with the lyre and the sound of melody.
6 With trumpets and the sound of the horn
make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord.

7 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
the world and those who live in it.
8 Let the floods clap their hands;
let the hills sing together for joy
9 at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming
to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with equity.

Today’s Prayer:

The theme in this week’s prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Global Day of Parents.’

The USPG Prayer Diary this morning (1 June 2022, Global Day of Parents) invites us to pray:

We pray for parents across the world. May they be given any support they need to raise their children in a healthy and happy environment.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org