Chapel of St Peter and St Paul

Our beautiful Chapel is free to visit and still an active place of worship.

The history of the Chapel

Chapel Royal

The resident Tudor monarchs would have worshipped at the original Chapel Royal. Archaeological digs have unearthed many artefacts from the site of old Chapel, now the Queen Anne Car Park. These remains are now on display in the Visitor Centre.

As an avid fan of choral music, it was regularly frequented by Queen Elizabeth I. The same composers, such as Thomas Tallis and William Byrd, are still sung in the present Chapel today.

The Royal Hospital Chapel

The Royal Hospital Chapel was built by English architect Thomas Ripley (1682-1758) following designs by Sir Christopher Wren, for the use of the staff and pensioners of the Royal Hospital. The naval veterans were expected to attend the Chapel every day.

In 1779 the Chapel was gutted by fire but was rebuilt by British architect and neoclassical artist James ‘Arthenian’ Stuart (1713-1788) with nautical motifs designed to make the Naval Pensioners feel at home.

The Chapel today

A beautiful place to visit, the Chapel (open daily 10am–5pm) is still an active place of worship with regular services.

Book onto a 500 years of history tour to learn more about the Chapel’s fascinating history and admire the enormous altarpiece by Benjamin West (1738-1820), the artist known as the ‘American Raphael’. The painting depicts the Biblical story of St Paul and his shipwreck at Malta.

Chapel ceiling

This wonderful piece of craftsmanship is almost certainly responsible for the superb acoustics of the space.

It was designed by the master plasterer John Papworth in a neo-classical design of squares and octagons. The intricate central ornaments were carved, rather than cast in moulds. It is plastered in light blue and cream following a Wedgewood-inspired colour scheme.

Detail of the ceiling, Chapel of St Peter and St Paul © ORNC

The Samuel Green organ

The organ at the west end of the Chapel is a fine example of the work of Samuel Green (1740-96), the leading organ builder of his day.

It was completed at a cost of £1,000 in 1798 and is probably the largest instrument built by Green still in its original position. It has three manuals and the pipework, which is noted for its purity of tone and rich mixture stops, is still in use.

The handsome and delicately carved Spanish mahogany case, designed by William Newton, cost a further £500.

Chapel Organ © ORNC and Jigsaw Design & Publishing 2010

Old Royal Naval College Chapel Interior

The Altarpiece and Pulpit

The influence of the artist, Benjamin West, can be seen all over the Chapel, particularly in the huge altarpiece. Its story is taken from an account in the Acts of the Apostles.

We see St Paul shipwrecked on the island of Malta. The islanders have helpfully lit a fire to dry out any survivors, and a snake, driven from the woodpile by the heat, has fastened itself onto Paul’s hand.

Miraculously he is able to cast it into the flames. The worshipping Pensioners would have understood this image. Not only is West painting about the rescue and protection of seafaring men but also about divine intervention and the threat of Satan.

This is one of West’s most ambitious paintings. It is also the only one of his large canvases to remain in the place for which it was intended, sitting in a carved and gilded frame by Richard Lawrence.

What's on at the Chapel?

In addition to regular services and lunchtime recitals, the Chapel also hosts special events, concerts and weddings.

Find out about Chapel services

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