Exeter Cathedral wins the award for the first Tourist Attraction I visited in Exeter, as well as the award for only Cathedral I have visited more than 5 times – including Chichester, where I spent 26 years of my life!
We did the roof tour which was great, although hopefully there won’t be a dead Dove that got stuck in the roof after a wedding if you decide to go, which resulted in 2-3 minutes of the people on the tour looking suspiciously at each other wondering what the smell was before the tour guide noticed it. Aside from that, and the added history, just the view was beautiful and worth the tour – you can just see Exmouth and the sea behind us in the second photo.
Inside is what I like to call “The Owl Room” (St Saviour’s’s Chapel) – which is literally chock-full of Owls, carved, embroidered (I like the particularly surprised one) and painted.
There is also the beautiful ceiling in what I think is St George’s Chapel, which I want to recreate in my bedroom one day!
This Cathedral has some fantastic monumental effigies, some are a little mysterious in that no one is 100% sure who they are, due to having no inscription, and the shields which were once painted with their Coat of Arms now being smooth and plain. One is almost certainly a member of the Ralegh family, probably Sir Henry Ralegh who died in 1301. There was some disagreement between the Cathedral and the friary on where he should be buried, which meant his body was left out in the street for ‘some time’. In 1306 permission was given to his widow and friends to move his body if they wanted, but no documents exist to say whether they acted on this or not.
One of my favourites however is Sir Robert Stapleton, who died in 1320. He’s one of my favourites because of the smooth darkened stone where everyone has reached out to place their hand on his over the last 700 years.
Another favourite is the 16th C cadaver effigy (one of two in the Cathedral, and considered very well preserved) in the North Choir Aisle. There is some debate as to whether it is Canon William Parkhouse d.1540 or Anthony Harvey, d.1564.
There is a great one of these in the Fitzalan Chapel at Arundel Castle, however Exeter’s does not have a robed figure above, remaining a stark, solitary reminder that, in the end, this is where we’re all headed…
Just in case the message wasn’t obvious enough apparently at one point in time there was an inscription behind him which read:
“From this cold corpse be instructed, and from complacency waken you; You will by death be abducted when he approaches, to take you”
Although the other cadaver effigy in Exeter reads “I am what you will be, and I was what you are” which is perhaps even more blunt.
Last but not least in my ‘Top Three Exeter Cathedral Effigies’ list is this fantastic depiction of Lady Dorothy Dodderidge, who died on 1st March 1614, during James I’s reign.
Not only is she wonderfully stiff in all her finery but someone has made a concerted effort with the graffiti on the skull, which brings me on to the other thing I love about Exeter Cathedral – the fine quality and age of it’s numerous graffiti vandalisms.
I find you can tell how old graffiti is based on it’s quality, ie. the neater the writing and the deeper the cut of the engraving the older it is, like the ‘JMS’ in the photo below right. This is not always the case, but I’m guessing people had more time in the past to really make a good job of it, even engraving in a pretty chain pattern like in the photo on the left. Exeter Cathedral also has a famous 1638 ‘tag’ – that of 17th Century composer Matthew Locke, who was a chorister here before going on to write music for the king.
A few other things to spot if you visit are: The amazing 15th C Astronomical clock, and cat hole in the door below it (In the 14th and 15th Centuries the cat here was paid a regular salary of around one penny a week!), the Boss depicting a Mummy pig and her Piglets, the fantastic modern Bronze sculptures in the Chapter House, and the 14thC tomb of the Earl and Countess of Devon, with it’s carved Swans and Lion.
If you love history, architecture or just generally have a taste for the slightly morbid, go visit!
N.B. Nicholas Orme has compiled a great book called ‘The Cathedral’s Cat’ which is full of interesting facts and stories from the Cathedral’s past, including the stories behind a few of the tombs mentioned above, and more detail on Bishop Hugh Oldham, or ‘Owldom’ of the St Saviour’s Chapel fame, who had a servant hold clocks from chiming for meal times until he was hungry, and once had to visit a woman for treatment of an illness whom he’d previously tried for witchcraft!