Since moving to Exeter I have been posting pics about the wonders of Exeter Cathedral on Social Media and how I couldn’t get to see it without the kids. In response, lovely Laurence from the marketing team invited me along for a tour.
I’ve read the Pillars of the Earth series and thanks to Ken Follett I have an idea what it took to build a cathedral. I should point out, that I use the term idea loosely. It’s quite hard to really fathom the centuries of blood, sweat & tears, thousands of lives and masses of stone it took to build a Cathedral, so every time I visit one I’m a little bit in awe.
Just the very size of Exeter Cathedral is awe inspiring. Rising from the centre of Cathedral Green like Exeter’s very own Sphinx – all knowing, all seeing, mysterious and beautiful – the jewel in Exeter’s crown.
My tour covered 3 main areas: 1. The history of the cathedral and a walk around, 2. A look at the Lego project & the activities for children and 3. the pièce de résistance – a rooftop tour which included watching the mechanism of the bells kick into action. I was a bit spoilt!
I’m going to try and cover all of these in my blog, but before I start, I’d like to point out that I could probably write a few hundred blogs on the Cathedral and still not scratch the surface of its epic history or capture all of its stories and mysteries.
This blog is purely a prelude, to encourage others to explore its wonders.
Part 1: The very brief history lesson
The building of the cathedral began way back in 1114, nearly 1000 years ago, and it was built originally in the Norman style (round arches and epic proportions). Between the period of c.1270 and c.1350 a major rebuild in Decorated Gothic style occurred – under the watchful eye of six Bishops – this included the original Norman towers which became the North and South Transepts.
Exeter – as a city of culture was significantly bombed during World War Two as part of the Baedeker Blitz and the Cathedral also took a hit. St James’ Chapel was destroyed in 1942 and was rebuilt in the original style.
Close by is The Bishop’s Throne (made between 1312 and 1316), it’s a magnificent spectacle at 18m tall and is made from Devon Oak. Fortunately, on the basis of one man’s dream it had been removed before the bomb and put into safe keeping – without that foresight it would have been lost too. Read more about it in this blog
I’m not going to give you the full tour, we’ll save that for when you visit but here are my personal highlights from the ground floor of the cathedral:
The Organ – It’s massive, monstrous and epic. towering above us mere mortals, as imposing as the organ on set in The Phantom of the Opera. The organ creates a natural divide in the cathedral, splitting the nave (main area at the front) and quire (the inner sanctum), where the ceremonies carry on behind gilt gates regardless of wandering tourists. I have to say it’s the biggest organ I’ve ever seen and I don’t think it would be out of place on the set of a Hammer House of Horror B-movie. For me it is the epitome of Gothica.
The Minstrel’s Gallery – I’ve been to the V&A museum several times and I’ve seen the lifesize cast of the Minstrel’s Gallery so it was great to fully appreciate it in person. Created in around 1360, it is unique in English cathedrals. There is a bit of mystery surrounding it too; twelve angels are depicted playing various Medieval instruments but one instrument is missing, there is a debate about what the instrument was. I like to think that he was an early day Louis Armstrong and he’s playing the horn like a legend!
The astronomical cloak and the ancient cat flap – The astronomical clock has been in the cathedral since 1484, and it still works! It is a “working model of the solar system as it was then understood” and is quite fascinating. Even more exciting is the story linked to it and the ancient cat hole cut out of the door below.
Apparently the ropes for the clock were greased with fat and this attracted mice and rats who liked to dine on them. This led for a hole to be made in the door below to permit the Bishop’s cat to do his job which was allegedly the inspiration for this little ditty; ‘Hickory Dickory Dock, the mouse ran up the clock. The clock struck one, the mouse ran down. Hickory Dickory Dock’
Part 2: Activities for children and the Big Lego Project:
The guys in the education team at Exeter cathedral are dedicated and working very hard to make the cathedral and the activities accessible for children and families. They have lots of activities to get involved in, including; brass rubbing, storytelling and dressing up.
The Cathedral also have Activity booklets and fab Lottery funded Explorer Backpacks that contain games and educational tools themed around things in the cathedral and they run workshops and activities for the children during the holidays. More information here.
My son LOVES Lego and Exeter Cathedral currently have a Big Lego Build going on.
The Big Lego Build is the building of the cathedral out of Lego by donating guests and the final model will be made up of 300,000 LEGO bricks, which will be an impressive 3.6m long, 2m wide and 1m high! Get involved, its only £1 per brick.
You can follow the lego build on Insta.
Part 3: The roof tour
If you’re going to do the roof tour be prepared for STAIRS – lots and lots of STAIRS, as you are travelling up them focus on that rather than trying to film the walk up, I actually thought I was going to fall down them!
Lovely Laurence timed our climb with the striking of the clock so I was lucky enough to watch the mechanism and film it for you..
The panoramic view over Exeter is certainly something, you can see for miles. I’d highly recommend the rooftop tour for everyone to see the city from a different perspective – you do need to book these though!
I’m sure this is only the first blog of many about the cathedral (I have another 50 pictures to share) and I hope you found some of it useful. Thanks again to Laurence for the tour. I’d love to hear about your experiences / see your pics, feel free to share below!
Exeter Cathedral is open Monday to Saturday 09.00-17.00 (last entry, the Cathedral closes after Evensong) and Sunday 11.30-17.00 (last entry, the Cathedral closes after Evensong)
If you are an Exeter resident you can get a free pass to the cathedral, pop to the office and ask (this is restricted by postcode) and if you’re not, there is a small charge and they have a pay once and return as many times as you like within 12 months policy.
you can find more information and plan your visit here.
Other Interesting Exeter resources I discovered whilst writing this:
If you need more enticement to pay the cathedral a visit, just check out this brief video of the story of Exeter Cathedral: