Built on the hill where the original Roman camp was established, the Cathedral Church of St. Peter is without doubt Exeter’s crowning glory.
The church in its present form was conceived in 1114, but a Benedictine monastery and Minster was set up here in Saxon times around 670 AD. One of its pupils was Winfrith who was born in Crediton (c675), some 8 miles north-west of Exeter and where the See of Devon and Cornwall was based.
Winfrith later became known as St. Boniface, and his missionary work took him from Exeter across to Frisia and Germania, where he became venerated to such an extent that he eventually became the patron saint of Germany.
In 1050 Bishop Leofric transferred the See to the Minster at Exeter.
Although it’s situated on a hill, the Cathedral doesn’t dominate the skyline as much as you think it would. Instead of a spire, it has two square Norman towers which give it a somewhat squat appearance, but what it lacks in height it more than makes up for in length, because at 300 feet, it has the longest uninterrupted gothic vaulted ceiling in the world. This gothic amendment to the original Norman church was instigated by Bishop John Grandisson in the 14th century, but he never saw his dream finished as it took over a hundred years to complete.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Exeter Cathedral’s biggest attraction is its Gothic architecture, and apart from the vaulting, it also has a wonderful West Front.
Other features worth looking out for are the Pulpitum, East Window, Astronomical Clock, and the Minstrel’s Gallery
All these gems were nearly destroyed when the cathedral took a direct hit in an air raid by the Luftwaffe in May 1942. The raid was part of the Baedeker Blitz which got its name from the Baedeker German guide books which included detailed maps of popular tourist locations.
These attacks were in retaliation for an increase in the RAF’s ability to bomb targets in Germany: The Hanseatic city of Lubeck was the first German city to be badly hit by the RAF and the Luftwaffe was ordered to return the favour with bombing raids on prime tourist cities in Britain, starting with Exeter.
Whether Goering and Hitler realised it or not, there seems to be a certain irony in the fact that the Germans began the attacks on the city where their patron saint began his work.
Updated June 2020
ORIGINAL POST – SEPT 2017
LATEST UPDATE – JULY 2020