Church Architecture: Exeter Cathedral Interior

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The Internal Architectural Features of Exeter Cathedral in Devon
By David Nash Ford


The Longest Stone Vault in the World

By Kind Permission of Pitkin Unichrome Within the glorious edifice that is Exeter Cathedral, the pilgrim should take his stand with the Minstrels, his back to the Great West Win-dow. Looking eastward, the magnificent coup d'oiel is complete. One realises the exquisite beauty of the graceful roof vaulting and the completeness of that delightful harmony of detail. The symmetry of the architecture and the dual beauty of the building is apparent in glancing down the grand vista formed by the thirty columns of Purbeck marble - a vista not broken by the lofty organ, behind which are seen glimpses of the silvery colouring of the Eastern Window. The rich and varied tracery of the windows demands special attention: no two similar windows will be found side by side, but only in opposite pairs.

The 350 ft long nave vault which extends, through the presbytery, to the far eastern end is the longest stone vault in the World. It is tierceron in style, with eleven strong ribs springing between each of the eight bays, to a central one running the length of the Catheral. Carved bosses mark the intersections. The walls are supported below by distinctive 'Exeter pillars,' each consisting of sixteen shafts of Purbeck marble. The far-famed and unrivalled Minstrels Gallery, built in the north clerestory by Bishop Grandisson, about 1360, shows twelve angels "playing on instruments of musick". These have been identified as the clarion, the cittern, the bagpipe, the rebec, the sackbut, the syrinx, the regals, the psaltery, the shawm, the gittern, the timbrel and the cymbals. The Gallery occupies the central bay over the nave arches. The richly sculptured Pulpit, composed entirely of Mansfield stone, was erected in 1877 to the memory of John Patteson DD, Bishop of Melanesia, who was killed at Nukapu in the South Pacific Ocean.

The lovely stone pulpitum or quire screen, of circa 1324, was the gift of Bishop Stapeldon. Its paintings, of a later date, describe Biblical events, from the Creation to the Pentecost. The arches of this screen were pierced on either side in the late Victorian restoration of the Cathedral (1870-77). The central arch forms the entrance into the quire, the richly gilded iron gates of which are popularly known as the "Golden Gates." The quire is exquisitely beautiful, the stalls being of close-grained oak, canopied and pinnacled and covered with minute and elaborate carvings. The ancient misericords are worth close examination, particularly the early depiction of an elephant now displayed in the southern quire aisle. The vast carved canopy of the Bishop's throne is early 14th century and was executed under the direction of one Thomas of Witney. Above all is the splendid East Window. Early Perpendicular, it differs from every other window in the Cathedral. The earlier re-used stained glass is one of the finest extant examples of medieval work.

The nave aisles are filled with a rich and varied number of monuments - mural tablets in marble and bronze - which will prove of great interest to the visitor. In the north transept is a clock, reputed to have been made by Peter Lightfoot, the monk of Glastonbury responsible for the fine specimen of clock-making at Wimborne Minster (Dorset). Beneath this marvellous contrivance is the inscription Pereunt et imputantur, "They [the hours] pass and are placed to our account."

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