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Churches of Devon

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Each tour aims to be city or county-wide in scope.

It usually starts at the county town or city centre and radiates outwards, covering the region on a district-by-district basis in the order shown on the map.

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Churches of the British Isles

Gallery: Churches of Devon

by Peter Kessler, 22 December 2019

Exeter Part 1: Churches of Central Exeter

Exeter Cathedral of St Peter, Exeter, Devon

The Cathedral Church of St Peter in Exeter occupies centre stage in Cathedral Yard, at the very heart of Exeter's ancient city centre. The first church on (or at least very near) this site was St Mary Major (see links). This was located in what is now the tree line to the right of this photo. Its beginnings were in the monastery and church founded in the 600s by the very first West Saxons to hold a command in Defnas (Devon) after Exeter was taken from the Britons in 685.

Exeter Cathedral of St Peter, Exeter, Devon

From the very beginning the monastery must have been well-founded - St Boniface of Mainz was educated here in the 680s. The monastery was refounded about 930 by King Athelstan, and rebuilt in 1018 by Canute after the Danes destroyed it in 1003. In 1050 Edward the Confessor converted the monastery church into the first minster church of St Mary & St Peter and its likely expansion at this time may have combined it with the nearby structure of St Mary Minor.

Exeter Cathedral of St Peter, Exeter, Devon

Work on the present cathedral behind the minster church began in 1112. The former minster was reduced in status and size while the new Norman building probably resembled much of their other grand church architecture of this time. After the death of Bishop Stapledon (murdered in Cheapside in London) in 1326, the Norman cathedral was gutted except for its towers. The new building was Gothic in style. In the 1290s the choir was completed, but the work carried on.

Exeter Cathedral of St Peter, Exeter, Devon

The Gothic nave and west front were finalised in 1328, twenty years before the Black Death struck. Work on the cathedral continued with all the supporting columns constructed of sixteen shafts of Purbeck marble grouped together into a single column. The pattern for the vaulting was established at the same time and all this produced the longest uninterrupted vaulted ceiling in England (although, as usual with large building projects, a dispute over costs broke out).

Exeter Cathedral of St Peter, Exeter, Devon

The west front was completed about 1340. Its huge window has a great image screen that was added by the Savoyard Bishop John Grandisson before his death in 1369. The front contained statues of kings, prophets, and angels. The apostles survived the Reformation but the king and Virgin Mary were destroyed. King Richard II inherited the 'Mary' gap as the coat of arms on the alcove base appeared to be his. The upper tier was completed about a century later.

Exeter Cathedral of St Peter, Exeter, Devon

The cathedral was saturated with colour but much of this was later lost. A major restoration was carried out by George Gilbert Scott in 1870-1877, but relatively sympathetically - Scott refused to destroy the pulpitum of 1324, for instance. He did replace the post-Restoration choir stalls but re-used the misericords of the 1200s which had been carved for the Romanesque cathedral. Heavy damage was inflicted by bombing in 1942, but much of it had been repaired by 1953.

All photos on this page by P L Kessler. Additional information from Discovering Exeter 7: Lost Churches, Exeter Civic Society, 1995.



Images and text copyright © all contributors mentioned on this page. An original feature for the History Files.