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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

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(See CHAPTER), an apartment or hall in which the monks and canons of a monastic establishment, or the deans and prebendary of cathedrals and collegiate churches, meet for transacting the business of the body of the society. Chapter-houses were often built in the most magnificent and costly style of architecture. They are of various forms, more usually located contiguous to a church, and often mere places of burial, having occasionally crypts under them.

In mediaeval Latin the chapter-house is denominated capitulum, and also Domus Capitularis. The former term was also applied to the east end of the church (caput ecclesiae), and hence there have been errors of translation.


The following details further illustrate this subject: "The conventual or. capitular parliament-house, rare in France and Germany, was used daily by the regulars, and on- every Saturday by the secular canons. In it also the bishop convened the community at. his visitation or diocesan synod. It derived its name from the little chapters or rubrics of the statutes being read over in it in the monastery it is said. At Valencia and Hereford the pulpit for the theological lecture stood in it until recently. In the 9th century, the north alley served for the purpose of the chapter- house, as at St. Gall; but in the 10th century a separate building was erected at Fontenelle, and Edward the Confessor built one of a circular form at Westminster.

The chapter-house in a convent was almost invariably an oblong, sometimes terminating in an apse, and round or polygonal .in a secular establishment. The latter form may have been suggested by the column with radiating arches which is found at the east end of an apsidal crypt, or by the Italian baptistery, in which councils were sometimes held. The-rectangular form was more convenient for the judicial character of the building, as the polygonal was for syniodical meetings convened by the diocesan. There are two apparent, rut not real exceptions; at Exeter, where the chapter-house is oblong, and the Benedictines were replaced by, canons; and at Worcester, where it is polygonal without and circular within, and canons were superseded by Benedicties. At Barin, the baptistery, round on the exterior, is twelve-sided within, each compartment formerly having a figure of an apostle. At Wells, Lincoln, Licifield, Southwell, York, and Elgin, this council-chamber stands on the north side of the church, connected with it by a passage for marshaling processions; but at Salisbury it occupies its normal position in convents, the centre of the east side of the cloister.

At Chichester and St. David's it is in an upper story, adjoining the transept. In the secular canons' chapter- house a large crucifix stood in the centre, near a pulpit for sermons and reading, and stalls were ranged round the sides of the walls; the dignitaries occupying the east end, and the canons sitting in order of installation, reckoning from the east to the west. In the Benedictine houses the walls were generally arcaded to form stalls, and a large coffer, called the trunk, was placed at the entrance, as the place of offenders. The abbot's or prior's chair fronted it, and every monk who, approached it performed the venia, an inclination of reverence. The apse of the chapter-house possibly contained an altar; since the building was regarded as only less sacred than the church, and a light burned constantly in it, and before the door. At Tongres the altar remains; and at Exeter the chapel of the Holy Ghost adjoins it in the usual position of the steeple.

At Belvoirand St. Paul's it stood in the centre of the cloisters. 'At Bristol, Exeter, Beulieu, Haughmond, and Chester, a large vestibule, with a central" door and windows opening eastward, is built in front of the chapter-house, in order to afford additional accommodation to the general assemblies of the orders. The Cistercians had sermons in the chapterhouse; and, like the other regular orders, admitted novices, administered punishment, and transacted general business in this room, which abroad was known as the chapter-hall. It was a peculiarity with the Cistercians to [subdivide their chapter-houses into alleys by ranges of pillars, and between it and the transept they invariably pilaced a large aurmbry or cloister library; and the Clugniracs at Wenlock followed the example; but in the Benedictiue houses the slype, or way to the cemetery, always intervenes in this position. Burials were permitted in the chapter- house to bishops, priors, and eminent -laymen, before interments within the church itself were suffered to be made.. At Durham and Norwich penitential cells adjoined the chapter-house, the offenders being at once taken to them, after sentence had been delivered."

Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Chapter-House'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​c/chapter-house.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
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