A medieval chapel is a building, usually rectangular, containing a range of furnishings and fittings appropriate for Christian worship in the pre- Reformation period. Chapels were designed for congregational worship and were generally divided into two main parts: the nave, which provided accommodation for the laity, and the chancel, which was the main domain of the priest and contained the principal altar. Around 4000 parochial chapels were built between the 12th and 17th centuries as subsidiary places of worship built for the convenience of parishioners who lived at a distance from the main parish church. Other chapels were built as private places of worship by manorial lords and lie near or within manor houses, castles or other high-status residences. Chantry chapels were built and maintained by endowment and were established for the singing of masses for the soul of the founder. Some chapels possessed burial grounds. Unlike parish churches, the majority of which remain in ecclesiastical use, chapels were often abandoned as their communities and supporting finances declined or disappeared. Many chantry chapels disappeared after the dissolution of their supporting communities in the 1540s. Chapels, like parish churches, have always been major features of the landscape. A significant number of surviving examples are identified as being nationally important. The sites of abandoned chapels, where positively identified, are particularly worthy of statutory protection as they were often left largely undisturbed and thus retain important information about the nature and date of their use up to their abandonment.
The below ground remains of St George's chapel 120m south of York Castle survive well and extensive remains from the medieval period are known to be preserved. From the excavated remains and documentary references it is known that the chapel was a large masonry building of a high architectural standard, which would have served to express the prestige and status of its owners. The monument provides an opportunity to compare the ritual practices and use of the building by three different Christian organisations in the medieval period and its change to a social institution in later years.
The monument includes the buried remains of a medieval chapel known as St George's Chapel. It lies in the north east of St George's Field at the neck of a peninsular between the rivers Ouse and Foss, 120m south of York Castle. The chapel is known from documentary references and is depicted on maps in the 19th century. Limited excavations in 1991 demonstrated that significant remains of the structure survive below ground. The chapel was built in the 12th century as a chapel for York Castle. It was separated from the castle by a water-filled moat, which was formed by damming the River Foss, with access being via a bridge lying to the north. It has been suggested that the chapel was located outside the castle walls because it was on the site of an existing pre-Norman ecclesiastical building possibly associated with the Anglian settlement of York, elements of which have been identified some 200m to the east. In 1246 a royal chapel was built within the gatehouse of Clifford's Tower and the original chapel was granted to the Knights Templar who by this time owned much of the land between the River Ouse and Fishergate to the east. The Knights Templar were suppressed in 1312 and the chapel reverted to the crown. It was then a Royal Free Chapel, known as `the Kings Chapel'. It was endowed with property to support the chaplain, including a close immediately adjoining the building. During the 1330s, other buildings adjacent to the chapel were used as workshops by the King's armourers and smiths. By the mid-15th century the chapel had deteriorated through neglect but gained a new lease of life in 1447 when it became the base for the St Christopher and St George Guild of York. This was a religious brotherhood of lay citizens which gave its members an opportunity to undertake charitable works, offered a social life and group support and also provided them with a suitable funeral and perpetual prayers for their souls. There were a number of such guilds in York, two of which, St Christopher and St George, originally founded in the late 14th century amalgamated in 1447. They were among the more influential and wealthy in York; the St Christopher Guild was able to provide half the cost of building the new guildhall for the city in 1445. By 1533 there were over 200 members both in and around the city. In 1549, during the reign of Edward VI, guilds and chantries were suppressed and the property of St Christopher and St George, including the chapel, was obtained by the City Corporation. In 1566 the upper parts of the chapel were dismantled for reuse elsewhere and a timber building was erected on the surviving walls. By 1576 the former chapel was in use as a house of correction and by the 1630s it was a workhouse. In the 16th century, along with the chapel, St George's Field to the south and west of the chapel was also granted to the City Corporation partly for the bleaching of cloth. This was to have an influence on the subsequent uses of the building. There are references to the building being used for weaving, including worsted weaving in the 1630s and cloth production during the Civil War. In the 18th century it was a private workhouse employing paupers in the cloth trade. The River Foss was canalised in the 18th century and a deep basin up to 5m deep was excavated right up to the east wall of the chapel. In the late 18th century parts of the building were used as The Windmill public house. The building was finally demolished in 1856 initially to provide access to a wharf on the west bank of the River Foss. It is known from the Ordnance Survey map of 1852, drawn whilst the building was still standing, that the main body of the chapel was a rectangular structure measuring 16m north west to south east by 25m north east to south west. The surviving remains were identified in three small trenches dug in 1990 to evaluate the survival of the chapel. These revealed significant remains of the medieval chapel surviving around 1m below current ground level. The excavations uncovered the southern wall of the chapel. This was built of large squared limestone blocks and was 0.7m wide and at least 2m high. The stone work on the exterior face of the wall was of a higher quality than the interior. Within the chapel building a series of at least three separate floor levels were found and on the exterior, to the west, medieval structural debris were revealed. Evidence of the 16th century restoration and post-medieval uses of the building were also uncovered. These included brick built walls, floors and internal divisions. Overall the limited excavations demonstrated that medieval deposits at least 2m deep survive throughout the monument and that substantial and significant remains of the medieval chapel, survive largely intact. The surface of the road and the pavement, the modern wall and signs are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these features is included.
Book Reference - Title: Archaeological Evaluation at St Georges Field Car Park - Date: 1990 - Type: DESC TEXT
Article Reference - Author: White E - Title: The St Chistopher and St George Guild of York - Date: 1987 - Volume: No. 72 - Type: DESC TEXT