Untouched for more than 140 years, Castle Howard’s chapel has been a sombre presence amid the brighter splendour of the stately home.
Visitors to the North Yorkshire landmark, immortalised in adaptations of Brideshead Revisited, have been able to look around the dark sanctuary but never fully see its features.
However, new environmentally-friendly lighting is casting the chapel in a new aspect – highlighting its ornate interior for the first time.
“It has long been an ambition of mine to light the chapel, but it had to be done sympathetically to showcase the magnificent decoration,” said the Hon Simon Howard, who shares the home with his wife and children.
“It was also important that the lighting was environmentally friendly, as well as economic. I am delighted with the results and the success of the project.”
Taking over a month to complete, the lighting fixtures have been installed to allow visitors to appreciate the chapel in all its glory.
The new lights provide an opportunity to examine the architectural and design detail, which would previously have gone unnoticed, including elaborate patterns of flower-spangled meadows, Celtic scripts and gilt detailing.
Visitors will also be able to benefit from the knowledge and expertise of a guide in the chapel for the fist time.
Guides are to be found in rooms in the rest of the house but it was never felt to be worthwhile in the chapel while it was so dark.
Mr Howard said: “The chapel has always featured in the house tour, but it has been unguided. This year for the first time ever, we are guiding the chapel to share with visitors the intricate detail and amazing stories. We hope it becomes a highlight for many.”
Drawing on the Pre-Raphaelite style for inspiration, the Howard family chapel features painted frescos depicting designs by Charles Eamer Kempe and stained glass windows by Edward Burne Jones.
These sit alongside gilded and fluted columns and under a high, coffered ceiling based on Holbein’s design for the Royal Chapel in St James’s Palace.
So reminiscent of a Catholic place of worship was the elaborate design, which incorporates Aesthetic and Arts & Crafts-style influences as well as Pre-Raphaelite, it featured as the Marchmain family chapel in both film and television adaptations of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited.
According to records, there appears to have been a chaplain at Castle Howard since the 3rd Earl of Carlisle began to build the present house in the early 18th century – even before there was an established chapel in which services might be held.
The present chapel, which is not consecrated, and is part of the mid-18th century West Wing, was originally intended to be a dining room, but soon functioned as a chapel.
The roof and pillars were part of the original design, but from the minimal records available it is not possible to ascertain what the chapel was really like or how it was ordered. It has been established, however, that there were two entrances: one behind the present organ and the second from the Long Gallery.
Visitors to Castle Howard, which sits within a 10,000-acre estate, in the Howardian Hills, will be able to see the chapel from Saturday when the house reopens to the public.
Guides will share the history of the space and detail of the decorations and visitors will be able to enjoy a programme of live music, including school choirs and organists.
Pre-Raphaelite talks by Castle Howard curator Christopher Ridgway will also be launched this year.