This chapel is unique in the diocese. It is a rare example of a private chapel within a Catholic parish church. It was built at the same time as the church in 1844-46 by Elizabeth, Countess of Clare and although it is popularly known as the Countess’ chapel; it is officially, the Chapel of St. Elizabeth of Hungary (the patron saint of the Countess). St. Elizabeth was born in 1207, the daughter of King Andrew II of Hungary. She married Louis IV of Thuringia. After his death on the Crusades in 1227, she gave the remainder of her short life to charitable works. She died in 1231 and was canonised in 1235. This is the only chapel, or church, dedicated to her in England.
It was here in this private family chapel (pictured left) that the Countess of Clare would hear Mass with her family and household servants in Victorian times, where she would be out of sight of the congregation, but she would be able to see the priest at the high altar, in the pulpit and seated at the sedilia, as she looked through the window, on the south side, to the sanctuary below. At other times, she would recite the rosary, study the bible and make her private devotions. The chapel was solemnly blessed by Bishop Thomas Grant of Southwark on 22nd May 1863, (the day after he consecrated the church).
The original stone altar has been replaced with a wooden one which was originally in the Presentation Sisters’ Chapel and the gradient at the back of the altar was installed last week and painted (marbleised) by a parishioner, Marion Rodrigues. The stone tablets on the wall record the Countess’s death and that of her companion, Charlotte Elliot. The tabernacle was originally in the Holy Cross Church at Seaview. There are statues of the Sacred Heart and St. Joseph on either side of the sanctuary wall.
The stained glass windows behind the altar depict St. John the Baptist and St. Elizabeth of Hungary. The one above depicts a person on their deathbed; a reminder for the Countess (and for us) that death is inevitable and that we must be ready to meet our Maker. The framed picture of Cardinal John Henry Newman reminds us that he was welcomed here in September 1865 by the Countess and he used this chapel to say his office and for his private devotions and meditation. Newman was beatified by His Holiness, Pope Benedict in England in September 2010.
The obituary (taken from the Isle of Wight Observer) can be seen on the chapel wall as well as her photograph and her coat of arms (above). The altar rails and the plinth (table) on the left with the statue of Our Lady, were installed by another parishioner, Ted Hawkins. The material for this came from the old pipe organ casing which was demolished in 2007. The kneelers and Communion cushions were upholstered recently by parishioner, Gary Moore (Sylvia’s son).
This chapel has recently been painted and upgraded with improved lighting, new seating and a new carpet. It is still used occasionally for Exposition Blessed Sacrament and Mass.