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A chapel is a building used by Christians, members of other religions, and sometimes interfaith communities, as a place of fellowship and worship. It may be attached to an institution such as a large church, college, hospital, palace, prison or funeral home, located on board a military or commercial ship, or it may be an entirely free-standing building, sometimes with its own grounds. [1] Many military installations have chapels for the use of military personnel, normally under the leadership of a Military chaplain. Until the Protestant Reformation, a chapel denoted a place of worship that was either at a secondary location that was not the main responsibility of the local parish priest, or that belonged to a person or institution. Most larger churches had one or more secondary altars, which if they occupied a distinct space, would often be called a chapel.

The word chapel is in particularly common usage in England, and even more so in Wales, for independent or nonconformist places of worship; and in Scotland and Ireland many ordinary Roman Catholic churches as well as non-Anglican church buildings are known to locals as "the chapel". In England, due to the rise in popularity of independent or nonconformist chapels throughout the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, by the time of the 1851 census more people attended the independent chapels, albeit at their own expense, than attended the state's Anglican churches.

The word, chapel, like the associated word, chaplain, originally had Christian roots, but is used in a wider context today. While many are denominational, many are non-denominational. The latter are mostly encountered as part of a non-religious institution such as a hospital, prison, or military installation. In England, where the Anglican Church is established by law, nondenominational or inter-faith chapels in such institutions may nonetheless be consecrated by the local Anglican bishop.

Chapels that are built as part of a larger church are holy areas set aside for some specific use or purpose: for instance, many cathedrals and large churches have a "Lady Chapel" in the apse, dedicated to the Virgin Mary; parish churches may have such a "Lady Chapel" in a side aisle, or a "Chapel of Reservation" where the consecrated bread and wine of the Eucharist are kept in reserve between services, for the purpose of taking Holy Communion to the sick and housebound and, in some Christian traditions, for devotional purposes.

In Roman Catholic Canon Law a chapel, technically called an "oratory" is a building or part thereof dedicated to the celebration of services, particularly the Mass, which is not a parish church. This may be a private chapel, for the use of one person or a select group (a bishop's private chapel, or the chapel of a convent, for instance); a semi-public oratory, which is partially available to the general public (a seminary chapel that welcomes visitors to services, for instance); or a public oratory (for instance, a hospital or university chapel).


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