CAPTION: The Very Reverend Johnathan Greener leaving no stone unturned to get the cloister dig started

First stone unturned in hunt for clues about Exeter Cathedral cloisters

Posted: 24th July, 2020

A new archaeological dig has begun in Exeter Cathedral Cloisters, an area which has never been excavated before.

It aims to discover the layout of the cloisters in medieval times, in the hope of re-using the original foundations to design a new Cloister Gallery linking the main Cathedral building with the cafe and historic Chapter House.

Camilla Finlay, the Cathedral’s architect, said “It’s brilliantly exciting, what I’m really hoping we’re going to find are the foundations of the medieval cloister, because our vision is to rebuild a cloister in that location.

“In an ideal world we would re-use those foundations and they would inform the architecture and be the whole benchmark for the new design.”

The Dean, the Very Reverend Jonathon Greener, got the work underway by removing the first paving stone from the site on Thursday 23 July.

A concept design for the proposed Cloister Gallery

He said:“It will allow us to use the buildings more effectively for our Cathedral purposes, and to give a better experience to our visitors.”

“We’ve just lifted the first stone for the archaeological dig, and I think it’s important because this is the beginning of our renewal of the Cathedral for the 21st Century.”

The project, which has initial funding from the Heritage Lottery Foundation, is the realisation of a plan that was started, but never completed, over 130 years ago by the ecclesiastical architect John Loughborough Pearson.

The Exeter Cathedral site has undergone many transformations throughout its 900 year history, and, as well as the medieval layout, it is hoped other significant discoveries will be unearthed too.

Johnathan Allan, the Cathedral Archaeologist, explained “This part of the site has not previously been excavated and we hope to learn more about the sequence of events here.

There were probably two or three different designs of cloister here, spanning from the late Norman period to the late Middle Ages.

“We may also find evidence about the use of this area before the present Cathedral was built – before AD 1114.”

“This is an important chance to learn more about this unique place in Exeter.”

The dig is expected to take between two and four weeks.

The Cloister Gallery design and construction project is subject to a full grant from the Heritage Lottery Foundation, which will need to be match-funded by the Cathedral’s own fundraising appeal.

It will also need to get heritage and planning approval.