Exeter: the Name and the Oxford College.

The changes which the names of places have undergone are often strikingly illustrative of the vast extent of time over which the annals of such places extend; Exeter forms a remarkable case in point. In the Caer-Isc of the Britons, signifying the town on the water, we are carried back to the very beginning of all, when the founders in that, as in so many other instances, took as their name for the new place some characteristic circumstance of position. Then in the Isca of the Romans, a Latinized version of the same thing, we are reminded of the dominion of the conquerors of the world. Another change shows us the Roman empire in Great Britain at an end, though the memory of that dominion is preserved in the Saxon Exancestre, that is to say, the Castle on the Ex: from this we pass finally into the great stream of modern history, as we begin to meet with the comparatively modern appellation of Exeter. The ecclesiastical antiquity of the city is no less noticeable; another name ascribed to Exeter— Monketon—seems to show that even in the Saxon times it had become distinguished for the number of these religious ascetics who resided in it. This very remoteness of origin may be the cause why we have been left uncertain of the precise time when the earliest building on the site of the cathedral was begun. All we know on the subject is, that soon after the junction of the sees of Devon and Cornwall, the seat of the united bishopric was removed to Exeter, and Leofric, the bishop, installed with great pomp into the cathedral, in the presence of the Confessor and his queen, both of whom took a prominent share in the ceremony. In 1050, then, the date of this event, there was a cathedral standing in Exeter, but whether recently erected or no is unknown. After the Conquest we find Warlewast, one of the followers of William, busily at work altering and enlarging during the early part of the twelfth century. Happily for him, he did not live to see his labours rendered of no avail by the mischief done to the Cathedral during the time Exeter was besieged by Stephen in 1136, and which rendered it necessary for his successor, Chichester, to commence a reparation on the most extensive scale. He seems to have been the very man for the time and the task imposed upon him. A remarkable proof of his zeal, and which was probably exercised in favour of the rebuilding of the Cathedral, is given in the statement that he was accustomed to go abroad very frequently in pilgrimage, sometimes to Borne, and sometimes to other places, “and ever would bring with him some one relic or other.” (Bishop Godwin.) During the life-time of Chichester and the three succeeding prelates, the Cathedral works were steadily carried on; the last of them, Bishop Marshal], whose sculptured effigy is seen in Fig. 647, having the honour of completing the whole before his death in 1206. Whether the large sums of money that had been constantly, and for so long a time, pouring into the Exchequer had begotten something like a love of wealth for other than church purposes in the minds of the chief officers, we shall not venture to decide, but a few years after the religious world was greatly scandalised at some discoveries made at Exeter. Richard Blondy, a recently deceased bishop, " a man of mild spirit, but very stout against such as in his time did offer any injury to the church," had, it appeared, waxed weaker as he grew older, and allowed his chancellor, registrar, official, and keeper of the seal, with other of the household, to obtain conveyances from him of various estates, advowsons, &c. that then were in his disposition; and for their own private and general benefit. The business was transacted with great secrecy and skill; but the next bishop discovered the whole, and in place of their enjoying the nice little pickings provided, all the great officers of Exeter Cathedral found themselves soon after excommunicated, and doing public penance in their own building openly, upon Palm Sunday, as the indis­pensable preliminary to their re-admission into the Christian body. Before long, however, the masons were again thickly clustering about the Cathedral walls and foundations; and bringing the structure to the plan and the state in which a considerable portion of it remains to this day. Peter Quivil was the bishop who thus signalized himself by commencing the great undertaking of bringing the old-fashioned Cathedral into better harmony with the architectural knowledge and tastes of the thirteenth century. He may be, indeed, almost called the author of the present Cathedral, for what portions of it were untouched by him, and executed afterwards, were built in pursuance of his designs. How extensive these were, may be shown by simply stating that the renovation in the new style, begun by him between 1281 and 1291, and which was ended by Bishop Brentingham, about a century later, extended to every part of the structure, the towers alone excepted. Bishops Stapledon and Grandisson, during this period, particularly distinguished themselves by their architectural labours. Godwin furnishes us with some interesting particulars of the installation of a bishop in the early ages, in his notice of Stapledon’s induction to the see. At the East gate he alighted from his horse, and went on foot to the Cathedral; black cloth having been previously laid along the streets for him to walk upon. Two gentlemen of "great worship," one on each side, accompanied him, and Sir Hugh Courtney, of the great family of that name, who claimed to be steward of the feast, went before. At Broad-gate he was received by the Chapter and Choir, all richly apparelled, and singing the Te Deum; and thus they led him to the church. After the service and the usual ceremonies, all parties adjourned to the Bishop’s Palace, where a feast, such as the middle ages alone can furnish, was provided. " It is incredible," Godwin remarks, " how many oxen, tuns of ale and wine, are said to have been usually spent at this kind of solemnity." Stapledon’s feast would, no doubt, be more than usually magnificent and expensive; for, whatever his faults, something like princely liberality seems to have been one of his characteristic merits.

Exeter College, Oxford, was founded by him, and originally called by his name: Hart Hall, in the same University, also derives its origin from Bishop Stapledon. Unfortunately for him, he was a busy statesman, as well as a zealous prelate. Having held posts of high honour under Edward II., he was found among the adherents of that unhappy prince when, towards the close of the reign, his queen, son, brothers, and cousin marched at the head of an army against him. Edward was in London, and appealed to the citizens, but they gave him so decisive a rebuff, that he fled precipitately, leaving the Bishop of Exeter, Stapledon, as governor. He had scarcely reached the outskirts when the people rose, and, putting aside all opposition, obtained possession of the bishop, and of his brother Sir Richard Stapledon, and executed them both in Cheapside, on the 15th of October, 1326. In the north aisle of the Cathedral are two splendid monuments facing each other; they are those of the two brothers. The choir is the principal portion that we owe to Bishop Stapledon. The gorgeous west front, with its almost interminable series, in double tier, of sculptured kings, prophets, apostles, prelates, and distinguished persons, forming one of the richest architectural façades in Europe, is understood to have been raised by Bishop Grandisson, who “sequestering himself from all idle persons,” is said to have “kept no more about him than were absolutely necessary, in order to compass the charge of such mighty works; likewise, assembling his whole clergy, he persuaded them to bequeath all their goods, &c. to the building of the mother church of the diocese.” After this last circumstance, one need not wonder that he should also be able to prevail “on sundry temporal men to give of their store.

The building, whose gradual formation we have thus traced, now consists of a Nave, seventy-six feet wide and one hundred and seventy-five feet long, with corresponding aisles at the sides; two short transepts formed in a peculiar way, namely by two towers, of unmistakable Norman original, and therefore, to an antiquary, the most interesting parts of the Cathedral; a Choir of the same breadth as the Nave, and one hundred and twenty-eight feet long; to these —the principal features of the place—must be added, ten Chapels, of which the Lady, or St. Mary’s, Chapel, at the eastern end, is the most important, and the Chapter House. It is hardly necessary to say the interior is in many respects surpassingly noble and beautiful. The delicate and numberless pillars, clustering together into so many solid groups for the support of the Nave and Choir, always a beautiful illustration of a beautiful thought, the power resulting from union, seem to particularly arrest our attention in Exeter Cathedral. The Choir and Nave are divided by a screen of the most exquisite character. The Chapter House is, as usual, very beautiful; its roof is of oak. The windows of the Cathedral generally are very large, and some of them strikingly handsome, with their stained glass. Among the lesser objects of attraction the Cathedral presents, may be mentioned the Organ, which is probably the largest in Europe, the Haerlem only excepted, and without any exception the finest in tone; the Clock in the North Tower, which exhibits all the moon’s phases, as well as the ordinary time of the day; the great bell, said to weigh twelve thousand five hundred pounds; the episcopal throne, an almost unique example of carved wood-work, forming as it does a magnificent pyramid fifty-two feet high, built up of arches, pillars, niches, pannels, crockets, and foliated ornaments; and lastly, the Minstrels’ Gallery, near the middle of the Choir, supported by thirteen pillars, with a niche between each two, containing a statue of a musician playing on some instrument. The Monastery, we may notice in conclusion, belonged to the Benedictine Order.