UP A CITY'S BRIDGE
IT is to be hoped that many will
be passing through the capital of Glorious Devon this summer in honour of St. Boniface, on their way to Buckfast Abbey or Launceston and Crediton.
By a narrow lane from the busy High Street is the impressive Norman Cathedral, with its famous West Front of 65 statues of apostles, saints and kings. The battlements and two massive Norman towers were built expressly to convey to the invading Danes, should they again sail up the Exe from the sea, that here was a formidable fortification, since the Normans had superseded the Britons at Hastings.
The pulpit of Mansfield stone has two panels showing the martyrdom of St. Alban, and St. Boniface setting out for his missionary labours in Frieseland and Germany.
The Chapel tomb of Hugh Oldham shows this Lancashire Bishop of Exeter. There is an owl holding in its beak the word "Dom" suggesting that in those days his name was called "Owl-dom" as the people of Oldham still call their town. It was he who founded the Manchester Free Grammar School, the pupils of which still wear the owl as their cap-badge: though it is doubtful if they still recite each night the De Profundis for the repose of their benefactor's soul, as he laid down.
On ancient site
Across the greensward from the Cathedral is a truly delightful oldfashioned quadrangle, qn oasis of rest and quietude. This house of the headmaster of the Cathedral choir stands on the site of the former Benedictine abbey school where St. Boniface was educated.
The Priory of St. Nicholas, from its antiquity and historical associations, deserves to be better known by visitors to Exeter. Proceeding down the High Street from the Cathedral, and passing the Guildhall, on the right is The Mint, a narrow passage. A Norman doorway gives entrance to this old home of the Benedictines, through the cloister.
Back in Anglo-Saxon clays, there was a foundation on this site belonging to the Church of St. Olave. which Gytha, mother of King Harold, had endowed as an offering for the welfare of her husband's soul. Gytha had put up a fight for two years against the Normans after the death of her son at Hastings, and it was only when the walls of Exeter were undermined after 18 days' siege that they left the city by the river as the Conqueror entered by the eastern gate.
William forthwith granted the Church of St. Olave with its lands and tithes to the monks of his Battle Abbey, who then erected the conventual Church of St. Nicholas.
Exeter being on the main trade
route to the Cornish tin mines, the Priory became an important calling place for refreshment, shelter, and rest, and frequently these recipients of hospitality became generous benefactors to the Priory. As almsgiving was a rule of the order, it was laid down that "To every poor body coming before dinner time there should be delivered a twopenny loaf, a pottle of ale, and a piece of flesh (on Fridays, fish) and a penny in money."
As there were no banks, the travelling merchants could deposit in the strong walled vaults of the Priory for safe-keeping their tapestries, their silverware and precious stones, or other valuables in which they traded en route to the tin mines. In 1535 the Priory suffered the fate of so many English monasteries; but the City Chamberlain records that the royal commissioners had a warm reception from the women of Exeter, who armed themselves with pikes. shoiels, and any tools they could muster, and breaking into the church which had been secured against their raid, they set upon the men who were demolishing the rood screen, From here the men took refuge in the tower, until rescued by a body of troops. The ruined priory supplied building material for many crumbling houses. and when one of the middle arches of the River Exe Bridge collapsed. the shaft of a centuries-old granite cross was used. thus fulfilling an old prophecy that "the River Exe should run under St. Nicholas's Church.
When the old bridge was demolished. the old cross was then used as kerbstone to protect a woollen warehouse. The old priory had been parcelled out—the guest hall was an infants' school and creche; the crypt and cloister an upholsterer's workshop; the Prior's cell a parochial hall: and the huge kitchen was a threestoried dwelling house. To the credit of the City Council of Exeter. faithful restoration has made the Old Priory of St. Nicholas a delightful and restful spot to visit.
H. J. KelIord,