Past Remains

A view of yesterday from today

Cathedral of St Peter, Exeter, Devon

Exeter Cathedral received it's charter and was established in 1050, almost 1,000 years ago. The church used at that time was the Saxon Minster church of St Mary and St Peter, which was situated a few yards in front of the present cathedral's west door; the Bishop's seat eventually moved to the new Romanesque Norman cathedral which was constructed behind it. Begun in 1114 and completed circa 1170-80, by 1258 it was already considered out of fashion and, influenced by Salisbury Cathedral, was rebuilt in the Decorated Gothic style. The exterior is not quite as graceful as Salisbury however, as much of the Norman building was retained, giving it a slightly hodge-podge appearance. This included the two square towers and part of the walls. Despite it's wonderfully quirky appearance outside, inside is a different matter entirely...not only graceful but breath-taking and awe-inspiring.

The top photo is just a tiny portion of the massive west front, showing the central door and part of the stone-carved frieze of saints, kings and biblical figures, including the twelve apostles. This was originally painted in bright colours and there is a model in the cathedral of how it once looked.

Well, that was an extremely potted version of what is almost 1,000 years of history. There is far more than I could possibly include here, but I'll do my best! ;)  Below are included some of my favourite photos, odd bits of information and interesting stories. This visit was made in the week between Christmas 2010 and New Year 2011, unfortunately at a time when the cathedral grounds are currently under new construction, fenced off and full of JCBs, with some of the facade scaffolded over. Therefore, I was only able to take a few exterior photos. I re-visited and added some more photos to the album later on, and when I've got a mo I'll change things around a bit and add the better exterior photos to the article.

Because the retained Norman towers are on the outside, the ceiling throughout the length of the cathedral is completely intact and is the longest uninterrupted vaulted ceiling in Europe. The photo above was taken from the nave towards the west door, and the one below is looking to the east; the altar, behind which is the choir.

Below is the minstrels gallery, the front decorated with carved and painted angels playing musical instruments.  Dated to around 1360, it's a unique feature in English cathedrals.The ceiling contains over 400 bosses. Looking tiny from below, they are actually massive, weighing some two tonnes each. A model of one can be seen in the south aisle.

Just before my visit I read a wonderful book by Nicholas Orme, entitled 'Exeter Cathedral As It Was 1050 - 1550'. I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who's interested in Mediaeval church and social history.  Services were not as we know it today, for a gathered congregation, but were enclosed in the choir behind gated screens. People did come to pray, but at no specific time, and just milled about in the main body of the nave. There was no seating then, and metal rings on the floor can still be seen where  horses were tethered...to leave them outside invited theft! There was much animosity between the diocese and the civic. One delightful account in the above mentioned book described how the sheriff's men chased a well-known felon into the cathedral, where sanctuary was then law. The service was interrupted and forty or so vergers and clerics reached down behind their seats and brought out cudgels, long knives and other fearful implements, culminating in a pitch battle between the two groups.

Another delightful story from Nicholas Orme's book concerns the daily services. After a long day, some of the clergy liked to play jokes to lighten up the boredom. The night services were particularly known for this, when candles were used to light the choir, and the vergers sitting on the higher seats would tip the hot wax onto the bald tonsures of those sitting below. 

Exeter cathedral is full of exquisite carving, the above photo showing detail of the carving above Bishop Bronscombe's tomb.

Beautiful painted panels on the doors of the Lady Chapel, above.

The astronomical clock, above, is one of only four remaining in the country. One can be seen in the church of Ottery St Mary; a church that was modelled on Exeter cathedral, albeit scaled down. In the door beneath the cathedral clock is a round hole for the cathedral cat. The grease used for the clock attracted mice and rats, therefore a cat became essential to keep them at bay. The first one even figured in the 15th century wage rolls for it's food at a penny a week, and also has it's image immortalised on one of the bosses. 

The photo below shows a delightful tiny chapel below the clock. Lovely murals adorn the walls.

The Bishop's Throne, below, made from Devon Oak.

The south side, above, taken from the cloister which separates the main body of the cathedral from the refrectory.

Above is the refrectory style cafe where I had a wonderful, almost mediaeval, lunch of home-made leek soup with roll and butter. The photo below is one of the windows taken from inside.

These are just a sample of the 100 plus photos in the Photo Gallery album. As this page is still a work in progress, things may well get changed around and added to as and when.  I'm not completely satisfied with it as it is, so I'll be tweaking!

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