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400th anniversary of the Lincoln’s Inn Chapel

2023 marks the 400th anniversary of the consecration of the Chapel by the Bishop of London on 26 May (Ascension Day) 1623. The Chapel at Lincoln’s Inn may be 400 years old, but it is still in regular use today and has a thriving community and congregation – all are welcome. A series of special events have been planned throughout the year to celebrate this milestone.

The Preacher outside Chapel

A message from The Ven Sheila Watson, Preacher:

The Chapel lies at the spiritual heart of the Inn and was begun by former student of the Inn, John Donne, poet and priest, whose portrait hangs in the vestibule. It is a significant renaissance building with some rare Flemish stained glass as well as family memories of the Inn with the Treasurers’ shields. Donne’s well-known lines, ‘never send to know for whom the bell tolls: it tolls for thee’, were inspired by his Christian faith and by the bell of the old chapel. The bell still tolls today – for services and to mark the death of a Bencher. Each time it reminds us of Donne’s words:  ‘No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, part of the main… any man’s death diminishes me’. It is the African insight, Ubuntu, that my life is inextricably bound with yours – ‘I am because we are’.

As we celebrate 400 years, we do so in community at the main anniversary service and dinner, when the present Dean of St Paul’s comes to preach, just as Donne returned from St Paul’s for the consecration of the Chapel he initiated. We look outside of ourselves and to the future with the Donne Anthem commissioned for our own musicians to sing with the Hackney Children’s Choir. Have a look at these and other 2023 highlights featured later in this leaflet.

More immediately, we begin with the inauguration of the new Treasurer, Sir Geoffrey Vos, Master of the Rolls. In February we welcome back those married in Chapel. As we move into Lent, there are further special events, including HHJ Sarah Whitehouse KC, one of our Benchers who is also ordained, as a guest Preacher; The Revd Professor John Barton at St Paul’s speaking on the Bible and its Faiths; Dr Katrin Ettenhuber of Pembroke College Cambridge for our celebration of John Donne; Mothering Sunday; and Palm Sunday. Have a profitable Lent!”

exterior of Lincoln's Inn Chapel

Consecration of Chapel

The current Chapel was completed in 1623, replacing a smaller one. There is a small fragment of carving from the original chapel on display beside the current pulpit. The new Chapel was consecrated on Ascension Day, 23 May 1623. The service led by the Bishop of London and a sermon was preached by our well known past member Dr John Donne. He had previously been the Preacher at the Inn and had laid the foundation stone of the new Chapel. The current Chapel building has undergone various extensions and remodelling, the largest being the addition of a fourth bay in the 1870s.

Watch our short video about the consecration of the Chapel to find out more.

Photograph of a stained glass window from the Chapel of Lincoln's Inn

Stained glass

The Chapel windows contain some beautiful seventeenth century stained glass. On the south side are windows in which the Inn itself is depicted (including the Chapel and Hall), alongside a representation of the City of London and Treasurer in 1623, accepting the keys for the Chapel from the builder. Some of the windows include the arms of Treasurers of the Inn, and these date from 1680 and begin in the east window.

The stained glass is currently undergoing a major conservation project, led by Professor Sarah Brown, Director of the York Glaziers Trust.

Watch Professor Brown’s lecture on the history and importance of the Chapel’s stained glass.

The Undercroft - a series of stone arches

The Undercroft

The Chapel has a distinctive Undercroft, where benchers were occasionally buried through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It was also known in the eighteenth century as a place where mothers left their babies if they were unable to care for them. These foundling children, as they were known, were usually then cared for by the Inn, at least initially, and were given the surname Lincoln.

Watch our short video to discover more about foundlings at the Inn.

Photograph showing damage sustained to the Lincoln's Inn Chapel following an air raid in the First World War

War damage

On 13 October 1915 a zeppelin bomb fell in Old Square and two Chapel windows were completely destroyed. The photograph shows the damage sustained. During the Second World War the glass was removed, kept in safety, and replaced afterwards. The north wall of the Chapel shows some of the worst of the war damage with pock marks that continue right through the Undercroft to the opposite side on the south wall.

Chapel today