The College’s Chapel of St Peter and St Paul was built as an integral part of the sublime Baroque edifice that is the Royal Naval College at Greenwich. Its dome mirrors that of the Painted Hall opposite, and it has a truly magnificent interior.
The Chapel was completed in 1751, and was the last element of the college to be finished. As designed, it had a rather plain interior with a flat, coffered ceiling, an apse at the east end and plain galleries. Destroyed in a fire in 1779, it was rebuilt but the architect James Stuart designed a new interior in the “Greek Revival” style, for which he was famous. It was reopened in 1789. It is unusual for the fact that the interior is almost entirely unaltered since its rebuilding.
The exterior is part of Wren’s fine Baroque scheme, with the imposing dome rising from a large broken pediment, itself surmounting the long arcade of paired columns which front the old college buildings.
The interior is essentially an oblong box, with narrow galleries supported on brackets which spring from the outer walls. But most striking is Stuart’s Greek revival decorative scheme, executed in plaster in white, pale blue and gold. A mix of classic Greek and Naval motifs decorate the walls, with extensive use of trompe d’oeil painting to add architectural details and statuary. But the most amazing element is the ceiling, which has a perfect neo-classical design of squares and octagons, with wonderfully ornate central ornaments. Its gentle curve gives the chapel excellent acoustics.
Fittings of note include the altarpiece painting by American painter Benjamin West, unusually depicting the wreck of St Paul on Malta; the neo-classical west gallery, which features the extensive use of artificial Coade stone in its decoration; and the memorial in the vestibule to Sir John Franklin and the crews of the ships Erebus and Terror who lost their lives in search of the North West Passage in Canadian waters.
The chapel is open to the public every day and remains an active place of prayer and worship, with a friendly and growing congregation.
Greenwich, London SE10 9LW