St George's Chapel is the place of worship at Windsor Castle in England. It is both a royal peculiar and the chapel of the Order of the Garter. The chapel is governed by the Dean and Canons of Windsor.
The chapel is located in the Lower Ward of the castle, which is currently one of the principal residences of Queen Elizabeth II.
The day to day running of the chapel is the responsibility of the religious College of St George, which is directed by a chapter of the dean and four canons, assisted by a clerk, virger (traditional spelling of verger) and other staffers. The Society of the Friends of St George's and Descendants of the Knights of the Garter, a registered charity, was established in 1931 to assist the College in maintaining the chapel.
The period 1475-1528 saw a radical redevelopment of St George's Chapel, set in motion by Edward IV and continued by Henry VII and Henry VIII. The thirteenth century Chapel of St Edward the Confessor was expanded into a huge new Cathedral-like chapel under the supervision of Richard Beauchamp, bishop of Salisbury, and the direction of the master mason Henry Janyns. The Horseshoe Cloister was constructed for the new community of 45 junior members: 16 vicars, a deacon gospeller, 13 lay clerks, 2 clerks epistoler and 13 choristers.
St George's Chapel was a popular destination for pilgrims during the late medieval period. The chapel was purported to contain several important relics: the bodies of John Schorne and Henry IV and a fragment of the True Cross held in a reliquary called the Cross of Gneth. These relics all appear to have been displayed at the east end of the south choir aisle.
The Chapel suffered a great deal of destruction during the English Civil War. Parliamentary forces broke into and plundered the chapel and treasury on 23 October 1642. Further pillaging occurred in 1643 when the fifteenth-century chapter house was destroyed, lead was stripped off the chapel roofs, and elements of Henry VIII's unfinished funeral monument were stolen. Following his execution in 1649, Charles I was buried in a small vault in the centre of the choir at St George's Chapel which also contained the coffins of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour. A programme of repair was undertaken at St George's Chapel following the Restoration of the monarchy.
The reign of Queen Victoria saw further changes made to the architecture of the chapel. The east end of the choir was reworked in devotion to Prince Albert; the Lady Chapel, which had been abandoned by Henry VII, was completed; a royal mausoleum was completed underneath the choir; and a set of steps were built at the west end of the chapel to create a ceremonial entrance to the building.
Members of the order meet at Windsor Castle every June for the annual Garter Service. After lunch in the State Apartments in the Upper Ward of the Castle they process on foot, wearing their robes and insignia, down to St George's Chapel where the service is held. If any new members have been admitted to the Order they are installed at the service. After the service, the members of the order return to the Upper Ward by carriage or car.
The order once enjoyed frequent services at the chapel, but, after becoming infrequent in the 18th century, were discontinued after 1805. The ceremony was revived in 1948 by the Windsor King George VI for the 600th anniversary of the founding of the Order, and has since become an annual event.
A member's sword is placed below a helm which is decorated with a mantling and topped by a crest, coronet or crown. Above this, a member's heraldic banner is flown emblazoned with his or her arms. A much smaller piece of brass ("stall plate") is attached to the back of the stall displaying its member's name, arms and date of installation.
On a member's death, the sword, helm, mantling, crest, coronet or crown, and banner are removed. A ceremony marking the death of the late member must be held before the stall can be assigned to anyone else. This ceremony takes place in the chapel, during which the Military Knights of Windsor carry the banner of the deceased member and offer it to the Dean of Windsor, who places it on the altar.
The stall plates, however, are not removed; rather, they remain permanently affixed somewhere about the stall, so the stalls of the chapel are festooned with a colourful record of the members throughout history.
The status of the college as a royal foundation saved it from dissolution at the Reformation. As a result, many of the smaller chantries within the chapel were preserved. These are the only remaining chantries of their kind in England which have never formally been suppressed.