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Exeter Cathedral, the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter at Exeter, is an Anglican cathedral, and the seat of the Bishop of Exeter, in the city of Exetermarker, Devonmarker in South West England.

The present building was complete by about 1400, and has several notable features including an early set of misericords, an astronomical clock and the longest uninterrupted vaulted ceiling in England.


The founding of the cathedral at Exetermarker, dedicated to Saint Peter, dates from 1050, when the seat of the bishop of Devon and Cornwall was transferred from Creditonmarker because of a fear of sea-raids. A Saxon minster already existing within the town (and dedicated to Saint Mary and Saint Peter) was used by Bishop Leofric as his seat, but services were often held out of doors, close to the site of the present cathedral building.

In 1107, William Warelwast, a nephew of William the Conqueror, was appointed to the see, and this was the catalyst for the building of a new cathedral in the Norman style. Its official foundation was in 1133, after Warelwast's time, but it took many more years to complete. Following the appointment of Walter Bronescombe as bishop in 1258, the building was already recognized as outmoded, and it was rebuilt in the Decorated Gothic style, following the example of nearby Salisburymarker. However, much of the Norman building was kept, including the two massive square towers and part of the walls. It was constructed entirely of local stone, including Purbeck Marble. The new cathedral was complete by about 1400, apart from the addition of the chapter house and chantry chapels.

One of the misericords, depicting a pipe and tabor player
Like most English cathedrals, Exetermarker suffered during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, but not as much as it would have done had it been a monastic foundation. Further damage was done during the English Civil War, when the cloisters were destroyed. Following the restoration of Charles II, a magnificent new pipe organ was built in the cathedral by John Loosemore. During the Victorian era, some refurbishment was carried out by George Gilbert Scott.

The bombing of the city in World War II caused considerable damage to the cathedral, including the loss of most of the stained glass. Subsequent repairs and the clearance of the area around the western end of the building uncovered portions of earlier structures, including remains of the Roman city and of the original Norman cathedral. Notable features of the interior include the great clock, the minstrels' gallery, and the ceiling bosses, one of which depicts the murder of Thomas Becket. Because there is no centre tower, Exeter Cathedral has the longest uninterrupted vaulted ceiling in England.


The fifty misericords are the earliest complete set in the United Kingdom. They date from two periods: 1220–1230 and 1250–1260. Amongst other things, they depict the earliest known representation of an elephant in the UK. Also, unusually for misericords of this period, they have supporters.


The clock
The clock is one of the group of famous 14th to 16th century astronomical clocks to be found in the West of England. Others are at Salisbury, Wells, Ottery St Mary, and Wimborne Minstermarker.

The main, lower, dial is the oldest part of the clock, probably dating from the 1480s. The fleur-de-lys 'hand' indicates the time (and the position of the sun in the sky) on a 24-hour analogue dial. 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). The upper dial, added in the 1760s, shows the minutes.

The Latin phrase Pereunt et Imputantur, a favourite motto for clocks and sundials first penned by the Latin poet Martial in the poem "Character of a happy life", is usually translated as "they perish and are reckoned to our account", referring to the hours that we spend, wisely or not. The original clockwork mechanism, much modified, repaired, and neglected until it was replaced in the early 20th century, can be seen on the floor below.

The 17th century organ case (enlarged in 1891)

Organ and organists


The Cathedral organ stands on the ornate medieval screen, preserving the old classical distinction between quire and nave. The largest pipes, the lower octave of the 32ft Contra Violone, stand just inside the south transept. The organ has one of only three trompette militaire stops in the country (the others are in Liverpool Cathedralmarker and London's St Paul's Cathedralmarker), housed in the minstrels' gallery, along with a chorus of diapason pipes.


  • 1584 Matthew Godwin
  • 1591 Arthur Cocke
  • 1609 John Lugge
  • 1665 Theodore Coleby
  • 1674 Henry Hall
  • 1686 Peter Passmore and John White
  • 1693 Richard Henman
  • 1741 John Silvester
  • 1753 Richard Langdon
  • 1777 William Jackson

Director of Music (since 1999)
  • 1999 Andrew Millington

Assistant organists

  • ???? - 1880? Mr. Vinnicombe
  • 1881 - 1889 Ernest Slater
  • Frederick Gandy Bradford
  • Walter Hoyle
  • 1900 - 1906 Revd Arnold Duncan Culley
  • 1919 - 1927 Ernest Bullock (later organist of Westminster Abbeymarker)
  • 1929 - 1937 William Harry Gabb
  • 1937 - 1940 John Norman Hind
  • 1945 - 1946 John Norman Hind
  • 1950 - 1955 Howard Stephens
  • 1961 - 1969 Christopher Gower
  • 1994 - present Stephen Tanner

Organist (since 1999)
  • 1969 Paul Morgan (until July 2010)

Organ Scholars

Exeter Cathedral has only had one organ scholar in its history.

See also the List of Organ Scholars at Exeter Cathedral.

Holy relics

It is recorded in the missal of the 11th-century that King Athelstan had brought together a great collection of holy relics at Exeter Cathedral; sending out emissaries at great expense to the continent to acquire them. Amongst these items were a little of the bush in which the Lord spoke to Moses, and a bit of the candle which the angel of the Lord lit in Christ's tomb.


According to the semi-legendary tale, Agnes Prest, during her brief time of liberty in Exeter before her execution in 1557, met a stonemason repairing the statues at the Cathedral, and stated that there was no use repairing their noses, since "within a few days shall all lose their heads".


The Tube web spider Segestria florentina, notable for its metallic green fangs, can be found within the outer walls. The walls are made of calcerous sandstone, which decay from acidic pollution, to form cracks and crevices which the spider and invertabrates inhabit..


Image:Exeter Cathedral SE view R Sands after S Rayner.jpg|A south east view in the early 19th century.Image:Exeter Cathedral NW view W Deeble after R Browne 1830.jpg|A north west view from 1830.Image:Exteter Cathedral 2923rw.jpg|The west front.Image:Cathedral of Exeter edit.jpg|The façadeImage:ExeterCathedralNave.JPG|The longest uninterrupted vaulted ceiling in EnglandImage:Exeter cathedral.JPG|Another view of the vaultingImage:ExeterCathedralBosses.JPG|Ceiling bosses including Thomas BecketFile:Exeter cathedral 009.jpg|More ceiling bosses

See also


  1. Details of the organ from the National Pipe Organ Register
  2. Dictionary of Organs and Organists. First Edition. 1912. p.252
  3. Dictionary of Organs and Organists. First Edition. 1912. p.291
  4. Dictionary of Organs and Organists. First Edition. 1912. p.265
  5. Who's who in Music. Fourth Edition. 1962. p.30
  7. Who's who in Music. Fourth Edition. 1962. p.201
  8. Jusserland, J.J (1891) English Wayfaring Life in the Middle Ages. Pub. T. Fisher Unwin. London. P. 327.
  9. John Foxe (1887 republication), Book of Martyrs, Frederick Warne and Co, London and New York, pp. 242–44
  10. Wild Devon The Magazine of the Devon Wildlife Trust,pages 4 to 7 Winter 2009 edition

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