By Joseph Toone
Home-based chapels have grown in popularity since the pandemic but have been in use for a really long time. Why and what does a chapel in the house provide?
A chapel is a Catholic place of prayer and worship that is usually relatively small, distinguishing it from a church. A chapel can part of a bigger church, like the chapel to Our Lady of Loreto in the Oratorio, or a home-based structure.
Worshipping in a home-based chapel has been around since the time of Jesus as the New Testament mentions apostles praying at various homes. That makes sense considering it was a new religion trying to fly under the Romans’ radar so they couldn’t go right out and build public temples.
As time went on and churches became the norm European kings and queens kept a chapel in the castle offering respite and quiet from stressful royal duties. Eventually, by the time the Conquistadors arrived in Mexico, the merely wealthy would build a home-based chapel in their hacienda.
In the 19th century the home’s owner often built a chapel so they could invite their favorite priests to come say mass there. Today I’ve seen these chapels serve as most everything from garden sheds to master bedrooms as there are no longer enough priests even for the churches around town.
The word chapel started with St. Martin. You see his image in convenience stores around town as the gladiator cutting his cape in half to give a nude, elderly man on the ground. That night Martin dreamt the older man was Jesus causing him to change his life and become a priest.
Martin kept his half of the cape to show folks that he had to go back to his military unit with his uniform and God doesn’t ask for more than we can do.
When Martin died his half of the cape had a small church in Rome built around it with the Latin word for cape, becoming chapel. Today Martin is the patron saint of cowboys and those that rely on the kindness of strangers, like store owners waiting for a stranger to come in for a soda or chips. Thousands of cowboys and cowgirls trot though town near his feast day to have their horses blessed at the village called St. Martin.
For many of today’s chapel builders the home chapel became an extension of their home altar, an idea gaining popularity far and wide thanks to social media and televised real estate programs.
When my youngest went away to college I turned his bedroom into a chapel. I can’t imagine any priest will ever say a mass there but I like the quiet it provides to think and pray. Mine features a large painting of Guadalupe along with several antique images of Mary alongside photos of important women in my life. I figure between the two male dogs and I the home could use some more feminine energy!
I’ve another local pal whose entire home emits the tranquility and beauty of a chapel with even her dog bowl featuring a painting to prayer above it! Loaded with art, ancient and new, her home is one of my favorite places to come in out of the heat. As she explained to me “My home is my chapel, my sanctuary. I feel that every day, and can’t imagine living any other way. Walking into my home – into any room – is balm to me, soothing and often solving the cares of the world, just by being in the energy of it.”
Today hacienda chapels and long vacated indigenous chapels around town are used for destination weddings. Some featuring on-site hotels, pools and reception areas for a wedding party that lasts all weekend!
by Joseph Toone
- TripAdvisor’s top tour guide with History and Culture Walking Tours and Joseph Toone Tours.
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- Author of the Maria Dolls coloring book helping indigenous doll makers.
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Source: Joseph Toone