A Short Stay in Exeter

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On our way back to Whitstable from Penzance, I decided it would be nice to stop for a night in Exeter.  I’ve wanted to see the cathedral there for several years now, and since it’s right on the mainline on the way to London Paddington, it seemed like a logical thing to do.  So, I booked us a 1-night stay at a lovely little hotel (B&B) near the rail station.  We arrived in Exeter at about 1:30 on a Friday afternoon, checked into our rooms (the kids got SUPER excited about the bunk beds!), and made our way through the town to the cathedral.

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Exeter town centre has a bustling high street!

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The cathedral (The Church of St. Peter).

Note the Norman (Romanesque) towers.  They are the oldest part of the standing structure, dating to the early Twelfth Century.  The cathedral was rebuilt in the Gothic style during the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries.

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I find the West entrance to the cathedral, with its wide triangular shape, so iconic.

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It’s so interesting to see the Romanesque towers next to the very dramatic and angular Gothic structure.  The towers seem so rounded and soft and subtle compared to the rest.

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There were more (and more interesting) grotesques and gargoyles here than we’ve seen in other churches we’ve visited.  We had so much fun spotting them.

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We had coffee and snacks in the cathedral cafe.

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Then, we explored the interior of the cathedral.  What struck me right away about this place was the color.  Most of the other cathedrals and old churches we’ve visited had very little color inside, and any painting that remained was usually extremely faded.  In Exeter cathedral, much of the painting, especially on the ceiling and ceiling bosses, has been restored and looks fresh and vibrant.  It really lends cheer and vitality to an otherwise cold, and very formal space.  I’m sure our photos haven’t really captured that feeling, but I assure you that it felt quite colorful inside.

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Unfortunately, there were workers assembling scaffolding and cleaning the walls and ledges up high.  There were a few places that were off-limits to the public, including the quire.  I was very sad as I was hoping to see all the woodcarving in the quire — especially the famous misericords!  There was one on display outside of the quire, but we weren’t able to see the rest.  We also weren’t able to see the bishop’s throne, which is purportedly one of the best existing examples of woodcarving from the Fourteenth Century.  Even so, there was a lot to see.

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The one misericord we were able to view

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This was all we could see of the quire.  Note the scaffolding on the right side of the frame, covering the giant bishop’s throne.

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There are myriad ceiling bosses and other ornate, painted carvings on the ceilings, archways, and walls.

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A life sized reproduction of one of the ceiling bosses.

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The minstrel’s gallery.  These angels are all playing Medieval instruments.  It’s meant as a balcony for special choral effects or for instrumentalists.  Very cool.

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I wish I could have heard the organ.  The seventeenth-century case was magnificent, and seemed to be floating above the pulpitum.

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It was really cool to get up-close to the bass pipes in the South transept.  They are SO huge!

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And in the North transept was a fifteenth-century astronomical clock.

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There was quite of bit of surviving Medieval glass, but it was spread out here and there throughout the cathedral, in various chapels.

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I loved the little chapel doors.

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And the tiles.

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This tomb was kinda creepy, but I loved it.  And the epitaph and inscriptions were fun to read.

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One of Brad’s fascinations is with old doors and the ironwork on hinges and door handles.  There were many interesting doors here.

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The cathedral was bombed in 1942, and a section on the South side was replaced.  When the new chapel was built, the stone mason placed a likeness of the resident cat tucked up in one corner.

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We were so captivated by the amount and variety of faces in the stonework all over the cathedral and there were a huge number of Green Men.  I read that the concentration of Green Man images is especially high in the churches of the West Country.  I wonder why…

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Paint colors were still visible in some of the nooks and crannies.

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Really old graffiti?

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There were so many flowery epitaphs throughout the ambulatory and in some of the chapels.  This is one of my favorites:

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And a nice surprise:  the son of Flora MacDonald was buried in the South transept and this is the epitaph on the floor, just in front of the organ pipes.

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The chapter house was very bright, with some modern art installations that I really enjoyed.  I liked the juxtaposition of Medieval carvings and painting and very modern, stylized sculpture.  The ceiling was gorgeous.

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My parents stayed in town late enough to attend the 5:30 evensong service, which got them into the quire!

We made our way to a certain street in town with a high concentration of Medieval timbered houses.  The 16th-century Tudor house on the corner is called “The House that Moved”, and was actually moved on rollers in 1961 to make way for a new road.

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Just up the road from the House that Moved is Stepcote Hill, a Medieval cobbled road lined with 15th-century Merchant Houses.  It is a steep climb!

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Charlie needed a lie down when we made it to the top.

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We went out for a pizza dinner at a restaurant across the precincts from the cathedral (see view below), and then headed home to our hotel.

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The next day we headed back to Whitstable, via Paddington and Victoria, with a tube ride in between.  Victoria tube station was closed for a while due to a fire alarm, so we ended up walking a few blocks through some posh neighborhoods.  Then home.  Had a great time in Cornwall and Devon.

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This entry was posted in Cornwall/Devon, Destinations, England, Travel, Twins and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to A Short Stay in Exeter

  1. Katherine says:

    I love the Exeter Cathedral, I think it is my favorite. Another fun thing about the cathedral is that in 3 places there are corbel of the master mason’s dog Mac. Another cathedral with cool miserichords and ceiling bosses, is Norwich Cathedral. It isn’t as big at some, but nice details, and a nice lunch shop.

    • boazrichards says:

      Thanks, Kit, I didn’t know anything about Norwich. Have you been to Gloucester? We’re thinking of visiting Gloucester in March… I think our favorite is still Carlisle, but Exeter is coming in a close second!

  2. Katherine says:

    I was in Gloucester as an undergrad, so really don’t remember anything about it, except a tiny bat hanging in some tracery in the cloister. Also have never been to Carlisle, so no opinion on that. Norwich both city and church has lots of devotee, and among medievalists it is quite the thing, because Norfolk had lots of contact with the Continent, so it’s culture had a slightly different flavor than the rest of England. Norfolk was home to Julian of Norwich, the mystic, and Norfolk home to Margery Kempe, mystic wannabe, and the Pastons, a gentry family who left a couple of centuries of family letters. When I was there, I didn’t have time to see the parish churches, some of which were supposed to be quite good. The Norfolk Broads (marshes) are just beautiful, really different from the West Country, but well worth seeing if you can get there–maybe in the spring when the weather is better.

  3. Pingback: Nidarosdomen | Canterbury Travails

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