St Stephens was one of several churches built in Exeter after AD 900; it has a distinctive bow and is unusual because it has a crypt. It survived the civil war in the 1640’s untouched, but later in1660 it suffered a fire, and was rebuilt courtesy of the generosity of a Mr George Potter who gave £500, a fortune in those days for its rebuilding. Exeter was a prosperous city, with the church at the heart of the wool and cloth business. A Mrs Back was known to have sold Sassafras tea under the bow to passers-by, how charming that sounds. In the 19th century repairs were carried out, including replacing the pews and the builders discovered remains in the Saxon crypt.
The safety of the west Gallery was debated in the early 20th century, but it was saved from demolition and was later used by the YMCA, when it was packed with worshippers.
Its tower was damaged in1942 but several of the nearby churches were totally destroyed, so once again the church’s congregation grew. In my memory it has been very much a place for the community that has coffee mornings, concerts and art exhibitions. It was in need of restoration and a major fund raising effort was staged – the St Stephens project. More serious war damage than expected was found, and eventually £1.5 million was raised over 9 years. During the rebuild 52 gravestones and an ancient charnel pit were found. The ancient gallery has been recreated and the whole building has become a place of understated beauty. It has survived its 1000 years and is now a valuable legacy for the city.
When I went into town on Saturday it was with Jake’s Sunday Post in mind. Once again I only had my phone camera. I walked down the High Street and something drew me into St Stephens, I hadn’t seen it for a year or two. I’m so glad I stopped, the transformation is staggering, from a pleasant but slightly worn and dim place to one which, I’m sure you will agree, is truly splendid.
My bits of history are from an audio visual presentation in the church. If ever you are in Exeter, add it to your list of places to visit, you never know you may time when there is teas and cake, or a lunchtime recital on offer. Pop over to http://jakesprinters.wordpress.com/2012/08/04/sunday-post-splendid/ for some more splendid offerings and have a lovely week everyone.