This morning, we got a very early start. We had a continental breakfast since we had to leave before they opened the kitchen (boo – full English for us!). We hit the road for Exeter, the largest city on Devon to explore the cathedral.

Exeter Cathedral dates from 11th century, with Norman beginnings. Over the centuries, things were added, an a Gothic style is evident throughout. There still remain Norman aspects including the north ans south towers and some pillars. Rebecca, the communications director for the bishop and chapter for the cathedral met us along with Anna, a cannon at the cathedral. They offered us a tea/coffee in the cathedral cafe so we could discuss our plans for filming. The cafe was the loveliest one I have ever had coffee in! Vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows. This may has served as the refectory or part of the cloister in centuries past. Wow. The two ladies were so genuinely kind, and we felt like they were just two moms just like us, who love what they do. And they are so very proud of their cathedral, and are as interested in learning about its secrets as us!

Everyone at the cathedral was eager to share about not only its rich history, but also that it still an active, vibrant community of faith. I believe this is at the root of their kindness – there was some kindred spirit there for sure. Anna began out front by telling us a brief history and about the discovery of Roman baths under the green in front of the cathedral. Once funding is secured, they will be excavated, and another layer of history will visible to visitors. Once inside, Phillip, a cathedral guide, took over and led us around the interior, pointing out details of interest. During the reigns of Henry VIII and Cromwell, many of the heads were cut off the smaller statues, but since it was too difficult to do so on the large ones, they chiseled off their noses. They removed statues of saints, and defaced the paintings on the walls as such things were seen as sacrilegious. The cathedral boasts the longest uninterrupted vaulted ceiling in England as there is no center spire. A mirror allowed the best vantage point to viewing the ceiling. He pointed out that in places you can still see traces of the original color on the wall. He pointed out little details, such as a tiny cat sculpture representing the cat who was in residence to keep the rats away. The centuries-old astronomical clock there was fascinating, and is said to be the inspiration for the nursery rhyme “Hickory Dickery Dock.”

Afterwards, we were rejoined by Rebecca and led into what would be a once in a lifetime experience. We were permitted to go into the library and archives, were ancient books are held an research is being done. The Exeter Book, the oldest book of English literature was there, and we got to see it first hand. The book dates from 970 and is written in Anglo-Saxon. Stuart, one of the librarians, brought it out and told us about it and pointed out many interesting features, such as the Medieval doodling, the marks to be sure lines are straight, and the way the way the parchment was made from animal skin. There was some minor damage due to the fact that centuries ago, people did not realize the book’s significance. It is filled with prose, poems, and even some naughty riddles!!

Another document we were able to see was the cathedral charter from 1055. It gave the cathedral its start, and every important person in the country was there and is included in the document, including King Edward the Confessor, and Harold, who would take the throne following Edward’s death in 1066 (but that’s another story!). The next document we saw was truly amazing – excerpts from the Exon Domesday book. Fran Alvarez is working on this project deciphering elements of the script. This is from 1086, when William the Conqueror issued the decree to gather basically census information about the land holdings, number of livestock, etc of everyone in England. This document pre-dates that book and is a compilation of data from Cornwall, Devon, and parts of other counties. It was submitted then ans used to compile the Domesday Book. There are Medieval editing marks, sort of like a like pre-microsoft Word. There were tons of corrections made in margins and above words, just like an English teacher would use the red pen! The Normans who wrote it, obviously had issues spelling many of the places and names of the Anglo Saxon people.

We also saw Grandisson’s Legenda, a book from the 14th century, with beautiful illumination works. The colors and the gold ink were so bold and bright, they literally looked like they could have been etched yesterday. Stuart saw that Courtney and I were pretty much “geeking out” over these amazing documents, and he brought out yet one more and asked me to identify the language it was written in. It was like nothing I had ever seen! It was, in fact, a Bible that was in the phonetically spelled out Algonquin language! A missionary named John Eliot wished to evangelize the Algonquins and developed a Bible for the, Of course, this did not work out to well, since they could not read the letters, but it is the oldest Bible ever printed in America and dates from 1661. And that one, I got to hold. I seriously teared up at every document…so much depth in the history and importance. What a rare and once in a lifetime experience.

We returned above to the cathedral cafe where Rebecca offered us a delicious lunch from the cafe so we could refuel before the rest of the tour. Courtney and I were joined by Chris to give us the tour of the North Tower. Up up up a steep twisty spiral stair. Halfway up, my fear of heights and tight spaces got the best of me as the steps got tighter and steeper. I made to the level with the clock workings, and we got to see the workings of the clock that keeps time and chimes the giant bell! I waited there, and then slowly made my dizzy way back down to wait for Courtney. She continued on to the roof…..

Chris took me up a VERY narrow set up stairs that led to the lead roof of the tower. From there he pointed out various points of interest and told me stories of how the city was rebuilt after WWI. Chris also told me I could go higher up still on a pair of metal stairs that is perched on top of the roof. What a spectacular view of this lovely city.

If you are EVER near Exeter the Cathedral is a must! The building itself is fantastic but the people who live, work and worship there are some of the friendliest that we have met.

We had a working dinner at the Churston Court Pub which included Steak and Ale pie for Heather and a Cheddar and Piccilli sandwich for me. As we finished a couple next to us struck up a conversation. They asked what we were doing here then proceeded to tell us some more “must sees” in the area. One place was Roger Wilkin’s Cider Farm in Somerset. We were told that we had to “Go see Roger… he’ll change your life!” We laughed all the way up to our room wondering just how our lives would be changed by meeting Roger.

Enjoying dreams of ancient documents and Medieval pubs,

Courtney and Heather