When Henry VI founded Eton in 1440 he envisaged a religious institution based on Christian principles as they were understood in the fifteenth century. Over the intervening centuries a great deal has changed in the religious and spiritual landscape. The Protestant Reformation, the Church of England, non-conformity, puritanism, the Civil War, the Commonwealth and the Restoration were all to come later. Atheism as we now know it was to develop in the seventeenth and particularly the eighteenth centuries, as were encounters with faiths other than Judaism and Islam. Eton's Christian traditions have always therefore existed alongside religious change. But the values Henry's spirituality enshrined are not lost because his school now welcomes members of all faiths and of none. The spiritual challenge, conceived as that process through which each human being finds himself and realises himself, in relation to a god, for some, or no god, for others, remains.
College Chapel dominates the Eton landscape both physically and spiritually. Whether as a Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh or atheist, this space challenges us to come to terms with what it stands for, with the sheer fact that it was ever built at all. We may accept it or reject it; we are most unlikely to share the spirituality of the king who founded it; but it is difficult to ignore it. And so the school requires boys to experience it, whatever their persuasion, for it stands for the requirement that each human life come to terms with its place in the great scheme of things, whether or not in the way that Henry envisaged.