Chancel (Choir)

Chancel Chancel


Pages in this section: Baptistry | Belfry | Chancel (Choir) | Chancel (Sanctuary) | Nave | North Aisle | Chancel (Sanctuary) | South AisleSouth Porch | Vestry | West Porch

In church architecture, the chancel is at the east end of a church building, and comprises the choir and sanctuary. The word chancel comes from the Latin cancellus meaning lattice, describing the screen that during some eras of church history divided the chancel from the nave. It is the part of the church, where the service is conducted, as distinct from the nave, where the congregation sits. 

The chancel windowThe choir, also sometimes called quire, is at the start of the chancel (looking from the nave), before reaching the sanctuary. It begins at the eastern side of the central crossing, under an extra-large arch supporting the crossing and the roof. 'O COME, LET US WORSHIP AND FALL DOWN AND KNEEL BEFORE THE LORD OUR MAKER' is written on the arch.

As an architectural term "choir" remains distinct from the actual location of any singing choir but at St James’s members of the singing choir do sit here when they are present. This area also provides seating for the clergy and servers at most services.

The choir was lengthened by eight feet in 1877, with new Choir Stalls providing additional seats for the singers. At the same time the whole of the chancel was repaved with special tiles. The choir stalls are the fixed seats arranged in two rows on each side, facing each other. The stalls are made of wood and the ends are beautifully carved.

The choir roof beams, in the shape of an A and O, Alpha and Omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, remind us that God is the beginning and the end of everything. There are various corbels (carved stone supports) on the choir walls, including the heads of the Virgin Mary, on the north side, and St James, on the south side. They, and more, can be seen on the page Stonework and Tilework in the Chancel.

The Organ is also situated on the north side of the choir. Originally built by Bishops for St Peter’s, Eaton Square in the 1830s, it was bought for £150 by Revd Fitz Wygram in that year. It is now a three manual and pedal organ and contains hundreds of wooden and metal pipes of different sizes. The interior of the instrument, where all the pipes are situated, is hidden behind the console. 

There are two special clergy chairs, sometimes called bishops chairs, at the front of the choir and also two in the sanctuary. They are made of wood and ''IHS' is carved on the backs of three, with another chair having the carving ‘Whatsover thy hand / findeth to do / do it with all / thy might / Ecclesiastes IX V10)’. 'IHS' stands for the first three letters of the Greek for Jesus (ΙΗΣΟΥΣ) - perhaps this was intended for the Bishop when he visited? There are also two litany or prayer desks for the clergy in the choir, also made of carved wood. Originally they were where the minister knelt, while reciting the litany. Find out about the Bishop Chairs and Litany Desks.

There is only one stained glass window in the choir, on the north side. This was erected in 1921 and commemorates the Revd CR Job. It represents St John the Evangelist. It has the inscription 'To the Glory of God and in the Memory of Charles Robert Job, Priest Vicar of this Parish AD 1893-1914 Erected by Parishioners and Friends'.

Find out more

The Chancel Stained Glass Window
The Organ
Choir Stalls
BIshop Chairs and Litany Desks
Stonework and Tilework in the Chancel
The History of St James's Church Buildings


The chancel A & O The organ