ST GEORGE’S CHAPEL WINDSOR CASTLE
I thought Evensong at St. George’s, especially now the nights are drawing in with the clocks having gone back, would be a lovely service to attend, and duly got into the queue in plenty of time to be given a seat. The service is daily at quarter past five, and at around five they opened the gates for us to file in. No photographs of any sort were permitted, though I expect you have all seen the Chapel on the television many times.
It is the Chapel of the Order of the Knights of the Garter, and was founded by Edward III in 1348, and is a wonderful building. There are never more than twenty four Knights of the Garter, plus the Royal Knights. It is one of the highest honours in the land and in the personal gift of the reigning monarch. The motto of the order is "Honi soit quy mal y pense,” or "Shame be to him who thinks evil of it.”
The story normally told is that Edward III was dancing with Joan of Kent, his first cousin and daughter-in-law. Her garter slipped down to her ankle causing those around her to snigger at her humiliation. In an act of chivalry Edward placed the garter around his own leg saying the words Honi soit qui mal y pens and adding "Tel qui s'en rit aujourd'hui, s'honorera de la porter.” Those who laugh at this today, tomorrow will be proud to wear it.
It is possibly more likely that when founding the order Edward was hoping to gain support and firm backing for his somewhat dubious claim to the French crown, and the motto may have been directed against anyone in opposition to his desires. Whatever the truth of the matter may be, what is certain is that the result is a stunning piece of architecture now soaked in over seven hundred years of history.
You enter by the side door, then pass under some magnificent stonework, so ornate it is like being inside a giant Wedding Cake - the proper old-fashioned rock hard royal iced type, not these rubbishy modern chocolate-cup-cake-sponge things. I imagined we would be seated away from the stunning chapel, but no, not only were we in the very heart of the chapel, but if you are early enough you get to sit in the beautifully carved individual stalls of the Knights of the Garter, each one with ornately enamelled and engraved brass plates denoting in Latin exactly who was entitled to that particular seat since 1346.
In the half darkened chapel, subtly lit to echo the original candlelight I could read only the nearest one at the bottom and the only bit I could decipher was something about Bury St. Edmunds. I wondered if I might be sitting in the stall of Sir Miles Stapleton of Bedale, one of the Knights Founder of the Order of the Garter, who it is said participated in three jousting tournaments between October 1347 and January 1348 one of which was at Bury St. Edmunds. Hanging above each stall is a banner of the currents Garter Knights arms, together with their helmet, crest and sword.
It was amazing to be sitting there listening to the wonderful choir singing and imagining Henry VIII or
Elizabeth I seated close by and watching very similar scenes. The acoustics were wonderful and the organ amazing. As we were not permitted to take photographs, I have found some internet links plus some Wikipedia photos
After the service was over we were allowed a few minutes to look at the chapel and hear the organ booming out with the organist really giving us a thunderous send off. Then out into the evening, still no photographs allowed in the amazing courtyard with the floodlit round tower in the background, but I have included a few taken from the street outside. Once again I was wonderfully lucky with the weather, and although we are so late in the year it was a pleasure to stroll around outside taking in the atmosphere after the beautiful service in such an evocative setting.