The History and Antiquities of London, Westminster, Southwark, and Parts Adjacent, vol. 3
St. May's Chapel.
On the east side of is the metropolitan Roman of London. The exterior appearance is plain, even to meanness, an effect which has not been removed by the recent compo casing to the walls, or the paltry decorations now given to the principal front.
This latter portion of the building is in parts, viz. a deep recess in the centre, in which are Corinthian columns in a bad taste. This recess is flanked by projections guarded by pilasters at the angles, and the whole is finished by a pediment, in the tympanum of which is an unintelligible relief in plaster of uncouth workmanship, representing females reclining against a cross. The south and north sides have each lofty arched windows, and the elevation is finished with a cornice. The west end abuts on the priests' dwelling, and is in consequence partially concealed from observation.
Before entering into description, it will be necessary to observe a deviation little to be expected in a building belonging to a church which boasts her undeviating adherence to primitive uses. In the present edifice we see the ancient and invariable position of the altar completely reversed, it being in this chapel at the west instead of the east end of the building. The interior is made into a body and aisles, with a semicircular tribune at the altar end. On each side of the building are semicircular arches sustained upon lofty square pillars, and half pillars attached to the extreme walls, supporting an elliptically arched ceiling above the body of the chapel, terminating at each extremity in a half dome, the whole being beautifully painted in vivid colours. The centre is occupied by a large pannel containing the Assumption of our Lady, and the Evangelists, distinguished by their proper attributes, surrounded by pannels square and oblong, containing scriptural subjects; the
|whole being separated by belts and bands, most richly painted in imitation of mouldings in relief. The ceilings of the aisles are horizontal, and painted in pannels, the plain surfaces of which are in imitation of clouds. The sanctuary is separated from the body of the church by a grand arch resting on piers, the soffit being richly pannelled.|
If any thing is objectionable in the building, it is the private seats in the piers below this arch, which give the whole a theatrical appearance. The sanctuary is elliptical, and consists of a low wall by way of plinth, sustaining coupled and single columns of the Corinthian order of Como marble, copied from the Choragic monument of Lysicrates, and truly beautiful specimens of the order they are, forming a splendid contrast to the poverty of the columns of the exterior. They support an highly enriched entablature, the frieze decorated with honeysuckles, and the cornice with Grecian tiles. The semi-dome, which rises from the cornice, has its soffit painted with pannels and foliage, and a splendid irradiation in the centre. Behind the beautiful screen thus formed, is seen the magnificent fresco painting of the Crucifixion, which it is greatly to be regretted has faded from the effects of damp. The altar is formed of the purest marble, and elevated on flights of steps of the same material. The front is boldly curved in an ogee, and the ledger supported upon terminal angels; on this are candlesticks, and the tabernacle sustaining the crucifix, and on the steps are other massive candlesticks of a grand design. The arrangement of the altar, and the whole interior of the building, are strikingly beautiful. The altar is lighted from the roof, as in the church of St. Sulpice at Paris, a method which, by excluding windows, keeps the attention of the spectator fixed upon the magnificent scene before him. The throne for the apostolic vicar is situated on the north side of the central area of the chapel, near to the sanctuary; and the pulpit, which is affixed to a pillar nearly opposite the latter, was the gift of lord Arundel, and partakes too much of the glitter and show for which the Romish church has usually been censured, and does not correspond with the magnificent but chaste decorations of the building. circular fonts of white marble, beautiful and chaste in their designs, are situated near the principal entrances; and in this part of the church are seen the confessionals, with the names of the priests to which they respectively appertain, inscribed above the apertures.
The paintings of the altar and ceilings are executed by Signor Aglio, an Italian artist, for the former he received and for the latter ; and the altar, columns, and other works in marble, by Signor Comelli of Milan.
The stone was laid on the , and the chapel was consecrated on the , by the late Rev. Dr. Poynter, the vicar apostolic. The whole expense of the building and embellishments amounted to
 Britton's Edifices of London, vol. ii. p. 7.