A Brief History of Exeter’s Cathedral

As heritage roofers in Exeter we believe one of the most beautiful historic buildings we have here is the cathedral, which gives the city its rich distinct identity. The building’s tale began all the way back in the 10th century, when Exeter was very different to how we know it today, and was a stronghold defending against Viking attack.

It was in 1046 when Edward the Confessor became the Bishop of Crediton and subsequently persuaded the King and the Pope to allow him to relocate to Exeter. It was in the 11th century when the building really started to take shape, when Leofroc worked hard to acquire resources and wealth for the cathedral. However, as Norman architecture influenced more of the country’s churches, William de Warelwast was appointed as the new bishop and work began in constructing a new cathedral. Most of the decorative gothic cathedral you can see today was constructed between 1270 and 1342. A succession of master builders oversaw the construction work, including Master Thomas of Witney; best known for transforming the Norman towers in to the Gothic transepts for completing work on the nave.

The cathedral hasn’t had the easiest of times over the years as, during WWII, German bombers flew over Exeter during the 1942 Baedeker raids. The Cathedral was hit by a high explosive bomb, which destroyed the St James Chapel, the monument room above it and two flying buttresses. If the bomb had fallen just a few feet over then it’s possible that the whole roof could have fallen in. Local, highly skilled craftsman worked hard in the following years to rebuild and restore the chapel and surrounding area.

As heritage roofers, of course, we find one of the Cathedral’s roof one most interesting features; the high vaulting and ribs of Beer limestone arched in a complex pattern known as tierceron. The great carved, painted roof-bosses act as cornerstones. The vault runs continuously from the great west window to the great east window, and at 93 metres it is no surprise that it is the longest unbroken and unsupported Gothic vault in the world.

Ultimately, we feel very lucky to be able to boast of Exeter’s Cathedral, one of the greatest cathedrals in England, and one of the best examples of Gothic architecture anywhere. Caring for it is a constant task that requires a great deal of conservation. Thus heritage tourism and visitors to the cathedral provide the much-needed revenue that is reinvested into looking after this site of historic interest and architectural beauty. This means it can be enjoyed for generations now and in the future.

As with any heritage roofer, conservation and heritage is paramount to us. The roofing of heritage buildings is particularly specialist and skilled, and thus ensuring proper maintenance and the use of adequate quality materials to match current building design is fundamental. If you’re in need of  heritage roofers then get in touch today.

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