Posted by: marymarthatours | August 28, 2014

Exeter Cathedral–A Full and Wonderful Visit


On our tour last May of Gardens of Devon and Cornwall, we stayed for three nights in the Devonshire city of Exeter.  I had never been to Exeter before, so I was particularly keen to “tick off” another English Cathedral on my “to see list”.

P1000725Saturday there was the driver’s day off.  The morning activity was a walking tour of Exeter.  We experienced the history and sights of central Exeter on a tour led and narrated by two delightful local guides.  The afternoon and evening were free time to do as we pleased.

DSCN6557My husband, who traveled with us on this tour, Mary and I spent most of the afternoon at or near the cathedral.  We ate lunch at a sweet (pun) and yummy spot.  Cakeadoodledo is a tea shop and bakery.  The owner, Kate Shirazi, spent a good bit of time chatting with us and even gave me the recipe for the salad dressing I raved about.  It was a gem of a find.

Fortified, we headed to Exeter Cathedral.  First we toured the cathedral on a guided tour.  This is a great way to see and learn about a site especially for a first visit.  The cathedral dates back 900 years and with construction that spanned from 1112 to 1500 AD, the architecture is of four different, major styles.  The two massive towers are Norman, and the main portion of the cathedral is said to be “one of the finest examples of decorated Gothic architecture”.  Two outstanding features are the impressive west front carvings and the “longest stretch of Gothic vaulting (ribbed ceiling) in the world”.  The Bishop’s throne is 59 feet tall and intricately carved from local oak.  The Lady Chapel is flooded with light from the stained glass windows, a very peaceful and serene spot.

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West front carvings and nave vaulted ceiling

After the guided tour we had plenty of time to wander about on our own, to look more closely at the various chapels and details, to take pictures, and to relax and soak in the space.  We were joined by a couple of other tour travelers for the late afternoon Evensong service.  Sitting in the Quire (where the choir sits), we enjoyed the beautiful voices of the combined men’s and girls’ choir.


Exeter Cathedral quire with Bishop’s throne on left

Exeter Cathedral is full of exquisite needlework, some old and most contemporary.  Much of the contemporary work has been stitched by the local Exeter Cathedral Company of Tapisers.  The needlepoint cushions that sit on top of the stone bench along the walls of the nave tell in pictures and words the local, national, and church history from the year 350 AD onward.  The 720 rondels (little windows) convey the story and give the work its name, The Exeter Rondels.  The bright colors sing out along with the words of The Te Deum, a hymn of praise, that is stitched into the 234 foot length of the cushions.  This same group of stitchers created 500 needlepoint kneelers in the nave.  It’s all amazing.

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Some of the magnificent Exeter Rondels

There is more contemporary stitchery throughout the various chapels, some in needlepoint and some in embroidery and other textile techniques.  It makes me think that while stained glass has long been revered for its religious art, now needlework has also become a major medium for expressive ecclesiastical art.

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Oh, how I wish that Exeter Cathedral were more centrally located so we could easily include it on a quilt and needlework tour.  I was in heaven; at least I can share some of it with you via a blog posting.

(by Martha)


photo credits:  all photos copyright Martha Liska and Mary Wallace, May 2015


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