In traditional Christian church buildings the chancel is the space around the altar in the sanctuary at the liturgical east end of the church. Following the exposition of the doctrine of transubstantiation at the fourth Lateran Council of 1215, clergy were required to ensure that the blessed sacrament was to be kept protected from irreverent access or abuse; and accordingly the area of the church used by the lay congregation was to be screened off from that used by the clergy. This distinction was enforced in canon law, by which the construction and upkeep of the chancel was the responsibility of the rector, whereas the construction and upkeep of the nave was the responsibility of the parish.The chancel is typically raised somewhat above the level of the nave, where the congregation gathers. It may be separated from the nave by a rood screen, the word "chancel" deriving from the Latin word “cancelli” meaning "lattice" (referring to the typical form of rood screens).
Stoup in North Buttress
The current Chancel (28ft 6in long by 14ft wide) is made up of two bays with a buttress at the mid point in both north and south walls. The chancel is thought to have been extended in the fourteenth century and certainly at some time the north wall had an entrance, as built into the west face of the buttress on the north, is a stoup with a two centred head (with the bowl missing). In Christian churches a stoup is a bowl, often set in the wall and found at the entrance to the church. It is filled with holy water, enabling those entering the church to make the sign of the cross as a way of affirming their baptism
The Chancel of St James
The western bay of the chancel has a cusped lancet window in both the north and south walls (see Windows section) while the eastern bay has a two light window (see Windows section) in the south wall, with tracery similar in design to that found in the nave windows. This latter window is missing from William Benton’s original design drawings (1879) and it would appear that the original sedilia, that is shown, was replaced at a late stage during the refurbishment of 1883.
The angles of the chancel to the east are also supported by two diagonal buttresses (as seen in the pictures above).The north wall of the chancel has oddly patchy masonry which could be explained by the blind arch that is found inside the church. There is also the remains part of a twelfth century Norman window arch.
The spectacular east window of the chancel had been replaced in the eighteenth century with intersecting glazing bars, but the nineteenth century restorer replaced the decorated tracery with three quatrefoils to match those found in the nave windows. Some of the small amount of mediaeval work to survive on the exterior of the windows, can be found in the surrounding masonry.
The modern plans of the chancel (depicted above), show the position of a plain recess under a two-centred chamfered arch in the south wall, which was probably used as an “Aumbry” (a cabinet in the wall of a church which is used to store chalices and other vessels as well as for reserved sacrament). The design of the arch would indicate that this dated from around the fourteenth century.
The plans also show the position of the two steps (one at the chancel arch, the other at the alter rail) that raise the alter above the level of the nave.Both steps are nineteenth century since the two old features in the south wall (aubrey and piscina) indicate a floor level of at least two feet lower
The piscina is positioned in the eastern corner of the south wall of the chancel. The design, with a tre-foiled ogee head, is thought to be fourteenth century. There is a shelf, to serve as an ambries for the storage of oils used in sacraments, which would appear to have been added at a later date.
A piscine is a shallow bowl placed near the altar of a church which is used for washing the communion vessels normally with a sacrarium (or drain) to allow any consecrated particles to return directly to the earth.Sometimes the piscine is also used for the disposal of other items, such as old baptismal water, holy oils and left over ashes from Ash Wednesday.
The chancel arch separates the chancel (sanctuary or choir) from the nave of a church. St James original Georgian chancel arch was wider than that shown in the picture left by some 4ft, with this simple rounded arch having being replaced in 1879 by a more traditional “Gothic“ style affair, with multiple concentric mouldings all supported on two rounded columns. Similar styled arches were also placed to separate the tower and the vestry from the main body of the nave.