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Ancien (-ne) is one of those adjectives that can go before or after the noun, and thereby have a different meaning. 

Normally if it precedes the noun its meaning is "former", otherwise it is "ancient/old". 

I have seen numerous instances where "l'ancienne chapelle" appears to be referring to "the ancient chapelle". Even a French person I asked seemed to agree that this was OK - in the sense of "ancient".

Is this an exception to the rule? 

The chances are that both may apply ie. it is both "former" (no longer used as a chapel) AND it is "ancient". 

So, how should I say "the ancient chapel"?

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I am not familiar with how "ancient" is used.

Is there perhaps something about "chapelles"  that predisposes them to us as seeming inhererently ancient?

Perhaps someone else can tell us ,preferably a native speaker or maybe just someone with greater familiarity than myself with the language.

Hello,

It's not usual to say "l'ancienne chapelle" with "ancienne" = old.

When I hear "l'ancienne chapelle" i understand "ancienne" as "former" = this chapel was a chapel some years or centuries ago and now it's not a chapel or it's always the same building that is not use as a chapel. But this chapel may be very old or not. But usually this chapel is old because now we don't build chapels since a long time.

To say an old chapel it's "une chapelle ancienne" or "une vieille chapelle".

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