Saturday, 26 January 2013

Exeter Cathedral

With only a modicum of time to spare when I arrived in Exeter (snow having affected travel plans) I chose to visit the cathedral
but on another day I would have been exploring the Medieval underground passages that wind below the city (their purpose was simple: to bring clean drinking water from natural springs in fields lying outside the walled city, through lead pipes into the heart of the city), experiencing Tudor life at St. Nicholas Priory or enjoying the treasures in the Royal Albert Memorial Museum.

The Cathedral was far from a poor choice. Its construction had begun in 1112 with a major rebuild taking place between c1270 and c1350; it was then that the decorated Gothic style was added to the building. The front edifice was sadly obscured from me by that seemingly ever-present scaffolding wherever I travel; the large rose window could only be enjoyed from within the cathedral itself.

Bishops Throne





Exeter is a very light cathedral. The local stone from which it is built gives light relief to the dark wood of the choral stalls, rood screen and the fourteenth century Bishop's Throne, whilst light (even on a winter's day) streamed in through the windows illuminating brightly decorated crypts.









Medieval vaulted ceiling
Exeter cathedral central bossThe first thing to catch the eye when I walked through the door was the vault ceiling. Created as a vision of heaven it is the longest continuous medieval vault in the world. The round stones which form part of the vault are bosses and they are the keystones that lock the vaults in place. There are more than 400 of these bosses and are carved with a variety of Gothic images including heads, figures, plants and coats of arms. There is a boss depicting the murder of Thomas Becket, the Archibishop of Canterbury, too high for my poor camera to capture but behind the Bishop's throne a replica of the central boss shows how much detail is captured in an architectural necessity that few would have been able to see closely.

Scaffolding was making its unwelcome way inside the cathedral as well. The organ pipes were being dismantled ready to be shipped up to Durham for restoration at a cost of around £1million. A cathedral guide informed me that the pipes would be back in November 2014 - "only one Christmas without the organ" she said, "which I am very pleased about."

Astronomical clock Exeter
In the north Norman transept is an astronomical clock dating from 1484. The numbering consists of two sets of I-XII Roman numerals. The silver ball and inner dial shows both the age of the moon and its phase (using a rotating black shield to indicate the moon's phase). As another guide pointed out (there are many friendly guides who are knowledgeable and not overly-intrusive) the moon ball was showing a 7/8ths moon. I am pleased to say it works, the moon was indeed a 7/8th moon that night. The upper dial, added in 1760, shows the minutes - before that time minutes were not commonly used when talking about time. The Latin phrase Pereunt et Imputantur is a favourite motto for clocks and sundials and originates from the Latin poet Martial. It is usually translated as "they perish and are reckoned to our account", referring to the hours that we spend, wisely or not.



With the rose window obscured by the scaffolding little light was entering for us to enjoy its detailing but the Great West Window was wonderfully illuminated. Most of the glass dates from the 14th century. Fortunately during WWII the window, bishop's throne and other treasures were removed and stored safely. A bomb damaged the cathedral in 1942 and but for their removal they may have been lost forever.

West window

The external of the cathedral is just as interesting as the inside. Gargoyles, grotesques, gothic spires and saints keep the eyes busy. Positioned in a green with the church school to one side and medieval buildings to another it is quietly present. Large, yes, overpowering, no. A beautiful, old place of worship that sits comfortably in modern life.

Exeter Cathedral information is very detailed. 



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