Bruder-Klaus-Feldkapelle von Peter Zumthor in Wachendorf / Photo by Martin Croonenbroeck

The role of the chapel

In the chapel, except for private prayers, the preparation of believers for the Divine Liturgy takes place. The Psalter, canons, hymns, hours and service of the day are read without a priest. Priest can perform the sacrament of baptism, confession, Extreme Unction, blessing of the waters, perform the funeral and memorial services in the chapel.

From the history of chapel and its analogues

The history of chapels and their analogues begins in ancient times, when the first Christians erected monuments over the entrances to the underground cemeteries and over the underground churches. These gravestone monuments were the first chapels; they are designated places of worship over graves of the martyrs. Small forms like canopy ciborium have developed from them.

“Sen” (Russian) or ciborium (Greek) is a small open chapel-like construction without walls. It is a canopy over the altar, where the liturgical rite — the consecration of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is made. A ciborium called Royal, is usually put in altars of large temples. The cupola of ciborium symbolizes the glory and grace of God, the sky over the cross and the place, where the body of Jesus Christ was laid. That is why a pigeon was put inside of the ciborium in the early Christianity, in which the Holy Gifts were put.

A Holubets (Russian, “a dove”) is a gable coated frame canopy over the grave covered with aspen — a small architectural form, like a mini-chapel, which it is impossible to get into. A covering ridge beam in Holubets symbolizes the dove, which represents the grace of the Holy Spirit rested over the burial. Hence the name.

During the period when the priesthood was not numerous, and temples were mostly put in prince residences, chapels were important organizing centers in the development of Christianity. Located in the settlements, far from the rare operating temples, they were the reference points for missionary priests.
In Russia, the image of churches and chapels developed on the basis of Byzantine architecture in conjunction with the construction of the ancient culture of the Slavs, with wooden architecture. After the Baptism of Russia, temples were arranged in Byzantine style, stately, A A cross-in-square, they decorated the epic country. As the Christianity evolved, newly baptized villagers could not immediately build expensive stone church buildings, requiring not only special handicraft skills, but also its long-term study. Slavs began to build wooden religious buildings with their own craft and carpentry techniques. This explains the transition to the stone-brick construction of temples from the Byzantine source to the traditional Russian architecture to the XVI century. Construction defines the architectural image of a church without frills, with symbolic decoration.

Externally, like dresses, architectural styles has changed, rich décor and unconstructive, often deprived of church meaning: Baroque, Classicism, Modernism et al., but the internal church Orthodoxy discipline or mood does not allow to change the symbolic order, the order of form creation — and the church design canon has been mainly preserved.

On the symbolic, constructive, and volume epression of the chapel

Traditionally, a chapel, as well as the temple during construction, is oriented to the sunrise, symbolizing the Second Coming of Christ. In contrast to the temple, in chapel there is no altar part because the chapel was not created for the full range of daily worship and liturgy, which is takes place every Sunday in the church on the patristic tradition, in the chapel it is admissible only if clearly needed and in the presence of specially brought antimins. We should pay attention to the concept of a temple-chapel. In fact, these are churches with altars, but of a very small size, comparable to the chapel, in which the liturgical service is very rare, so they are often used as chapels. In the traditional orientation of the chapel, its eastern wall from the inside is the basis of the iconostasis. The chapel is crowned or with one cross, or may be single-domed, double-domed and multi-domed. The constructive solution of chapel can be “kletskaya” (rectangular), domed, hipped, and tiered, fiery.
The plan of a chapel can be circular, square, rectangular, cross-like, octagonal, or polyhedral.

Dimensional, spatial and color variety of chapels

In the history of chapels and in modern practice two main typological moments can be seen. One is that chapels can appear spontaneously in a sheltered space, where it is convenient for a person to stand in prayer. It can be a cave or any other natural cover.

Chapels can be divided in two types: open like a canopy and closed, like a chapel with walls. Open chapel suits for conciliar prayers of many people, there’s plenty of light here. In the closed type chapel there is little light, but it suits more for the renunciation person from the outside world.

The purpose of the chapel while maintaining its spiritual essence is diverse. In our reality, the tradition of putting chapels in urban areas, in rural areas, on the roads, over the springs, in the villages and cemeteries is revived. The tradition of putting memorial chapels above the altars of former churches, and in honor of the historic and religious events has been preserved. Also, there are house chapels, hospital, cave, transport and mobile chapels, ship chapels, chapels at schools, in the army, in prisons, etc. Generally accepted structural building materials for the execution of the chapels in the tradition of Russian church architecture are wood, brick, stone, iron, copper, lead. In ancient times tissue tent chapels during military campaigns and in the field of military camps were used. The color of the chapel depends on the building material, in the case of its dyeing, of its symbolic dedication. The church constitution and church tradition specify the colors that are used throughout the year in the liturgy. Yellow and gold colour means the Divine Glory, white means the spiritual purity and the Transfiguration, green is a colour of eternal life, the Trinity and saints, red is the colour of the Easter and martyrs, silver is the colour of purity and repentance, and the blue is the colour of the abstinence and the Holy Cross holidays.

Construction of chapels in the modern urban space

The new image of the chapel can be founded on the regional architectural traditions based on centuries-old traditions of the Orthodox Church — Byzantine, Kiev, Moscow, Northern Russian and others.
The image of a chapel can help to replenish the lost grace, it is essential in the existing world. Traditional chapel as well as a temple, set in a complex urban situation among rapid highways and towering skyscrapers, ennobles the space. It is a banner, a symbol of the spiritual being, which heads the mental and physical strength.

Chapel was a link of the church space in older times, of the space, which began in the roadside crosses, in kiot (Russian, icon case) pillars, and then was marked by chapels, churches, monasteries, and completed in the ensemble of the city. In the modified, sometimes depersonalized residential environment it serves as a spiritual enzyme, saturating, creating space of high spiritual state of a person.

Artilcle from the Faith issue of Archmag #1/2015.