HomeThere and hereafter Chapels in ecclesial space of 17th -century France

HomeThere and hereafter Chapels in ecclesial space of 17th -century France

There and hereafter Chapels in ecclesial space of 17th -century France

Ci-bas et au-delà. Les chapelles dans l’espace ecclésial de la France du XVIIe siècle

*  *  *

Published on Tuesday, November 29, 2022


The formal or functionalist analysis of sacred space tends to see the ecclesiastical building as a juxtaposition of clearly distinct spaces - the nave, the choir, or the transept - the separation of which would reflect, in particular, the difference in status (clerics and laity). It is clear that by returning to the modern definition of the chapel, which is attached not to a space but solely to an altar, this cartography of ecclesial space is immediately confused. This colloquium aims to study the place of chapels within the ecclesial space in 17th century France and to evaluate their role in the definition of religious sentiment.



International symposium, Rouen, October 5th -7 th, 2023


Formal or functional analysis of sacred space tends towards seeing ecclesial building as a juxtaposition of clearly distinct spaces – the nave, the choir, or the transept – whose separation would reflect different conditions (clergy and laity). Ecclesial space can also be seen as an aggregate of chapels of different sizes, as suggested by Carlo Borromeo's writings: he regarded the choir as a “major chapel”, compared to minor altars and chapels.

Bringing up the early-modern definition of a chapel, attached not to a space, but only to an altar, disturbs this theoretical mapping of ecclesial space. These secondary chapels are placed either a the very end the transept, either in the apse, or either in the nave's collaterals, even only associated with isolated support. They reproduced thus the spacial distinction between clergy incumbent and laity to a reduced scale. This copresence punctuates ecclesial space.

Despite an identical terminology, it seems to be a real peculiarity proper to these secondary chapels, restraining the ecclesia's fields, since they were often dedicated to a peculiar devotion, or conceded to a unique family or devotee's assembly (friary, company…). Borromeo's hierarchisation brings consequently a relative independence: by possessing an altar, chapels are liturgically independent, whereas they spatially depend on the rest of the building, whose passing very often conditions their access. Adjacent chapels are thus engaged in a direct visual interaction with their exterior environment.

This necessarily questions their juxtaposition, which is sometimes competitive, of the numerous visual settings adorning them. This multiplicity of places comes with a polarisation, even a blow-out of spatial space. After the Council of Trent and the modifications of ecclesial organisation following the recentering of religious life around Eucharistic cult, partly thanks to the disappearance of jubes, space tends to homogenise and to hierarchise, redistributing major functions in different spaces. Those changes allow to interrogate the specific place of chapels in this spatial renegociation. Collateral chapels appeared much earlier than the 17th century. This seems to be due to the evolution of devotion, and the recentering around Eucharistic worship that brings a consequent displacement of other devotions in fewer eminent spaces. Romanesque architecture, then the Gothic one, favoured axial chapels in the transept and the apse. It is often in a posterior phase of construction that chapels are erected in collaterals, whereas these is almost a prerequisite of classical church architecture, as modest as it is.

Could we consider collateral chapels as the refuge of private and specific devotions (patron and local saints), whereas more shared devotion (Holy-Host, Virgin, holy images and miraculous relics), would be worshipped in nodal points (axial chapels, transept), which are visually more eminent. Those spaces would thus articulate public and private devotions, community and individual one, even if a few examples show that collateral chapels had collective functions. One can name the outstanding Saint-Veran chapel in Cavaillon's cathedral, where the saint relics are kept, and the Holy-Host chapel conceded to the Corpus Christi friars, or the Sainte-Anne chapel in Apt's cathedral.

Obvious eschatological implications add to this public dimension, particularly in case of concessions, which often come with a burial right. Chapels become a there, where one openly states its willing to achieve Salvation thereafter, by conforming on earth to the catholic ideals. Concessions also come with mass founding, said for a special cause. The “conforming” dimension of space is crucial, and allows the chapel to be the place of a “religious subjectivisation”, obvious in the rare complete examples still in place, such as the old Sepulchre chapel at the Parisian parish Saint-Nicolas-des-Champs.

Few studies regarded these chapels as central places to understand early-modern religion, probably because of massive destructions in France. Many impressive cases still exist however: in Paris, Saint-Joseph-desCarmes's chapels, Saint-Gervain-Saint-Protais's Gilded chapel or Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet's Saint-Charles chapel, conceded to the painter Charles Le Brun. Ancient settings are sometimes dispersed, but documentation, fragments such as wood panels, murals or the numerous paintings separated from the original place allow to imagine the importance of these decorations. Let us cite in Paris again at Saint-Eustache the Val and SaintVincent de Paul chapels. Among others, in the provinces, one can name the Rosary chapel at Saint-Martin in Pont-sur-Seine, the Brice chapel in Rouen's cathedral, or numerous Provençal cases (Notre-Dame in L'Isle-surLa-Sorgue).

Starting with remarkable case studies, comparative analysis, or more transversal researches, this symposium would thus aim at highlighting the chapel's singularity, its determinant place in the rise of individual religious sentiments and the various modes of its artistic expressions.

Questions to be addressed by art historians, associated historians, academics (early career and senior researchers) or curators are numerous:

  • How does the presence of different actors (clergy, parish officer, friaries, laities, founder or artist) influence architectural and decorative forms? Can we see forms and iconography homogenise? Is there a juridical and social evolution in the chapel's appropriation, and what are its economical stakes? Can we distinguish the founder's role to his or her heirs?
  • Which functions are dedicated these places to? Is it funerary, commemorative (Berulle's monument at the Parisian Carmelites), personal and familial celebration, spiritual (meditation, orison), devotional (patron saints' worship), liturgical (silent mass by chaplains)? How do its uses determine space organisation and setting?
  • Does a specific liturgical use justify spatial autonomy? Is there a permeability between community rituals and familial or intimate ones? How does familial celebration, shown in monuments and coats of arms, deal with Christian humility and belonging to the Ecclesia?
  • Are chapels or occupiers related to other ecclesial spaces and actors? Which differences or similarities exist between ecclesial chapels and palatial ones belonging to same owner? How are certain parish churches, mostly rural such as in Normandy, invested by aristocratic logics?
  • Finally, which relation between the private and the public, the individuals and the communities, norms and singularities does the chapel show? Does it match the ecclesiological conception of the Church as the Christ's body?

This symposium is part of the research project Spiritual spaces in Baroque Normandy, conceived by the Rouen-Normandie University (Groupe de recherche en histoire) and funded by the Normandie Region (RIN 2021-2023). www.esnb.hypotheses.org

Submission guidelines

Please send a proposal and a brief biographical note to f.cousinie@orange.fr.

Abstracts in Italian, English, German and French and Spanish are accepted, but the main language of the symposium will be French.

before January 30th, 2023.


Université de Rouen Normandie, Grhis – RIN 2022-2023: Espaces du spirituel en Normandie Baroque:

  • Émilie Chedeville
  • Frédéric Cousinié
  • Moana Weil-Curiel

Scientific committee

  • Olivier Bonfait (Université de Bourgogne, Dijon)
  • Émilie Chedeville (Université de Rouen Normandie)
  • Frédéric Cousinié (Université de Rouen Normandie)
  • Christine Gouzi (Université Paris-Sorbonne)
  • Étienne Jollet (Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne)
  • Anne Le Pas de Sécheval (Université de Paris Nanterre)
  • Vincent Simonet (DRAC Normandie)
  • Patrizia Tosini (Università Roma Tre)
  • Moana Weil-Curiel (Université de Rouen Normandie)
  • Steffen Zierholz (Eberhard Karls Universität, Tübingen)


Event attendance modalities

Full on-site event


  • Monday, January 30, 2023


  • chapelle, espace sacré, espace ecclésial, confrérie, histoire de l'art, époque moderne

Information source

  • Emilie Chedeville
    courriel : emilie [dot] chedeville [at] hotmail [dot] fr


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« There and hereafter Chapels in ecclesial space of 17th -century France », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Tuesday, November 29, 2022, https://doi.org/10.58079/1a2l

Archive this announcement

  • Google Agenda
  • iCal
Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search