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Roman fortress unearthed beneath Exeter Cathedral

07 April 2023


Archaeological investigations at Exeter Cathedral

Archaeological investigations at Exeter Cathedral

REMAINS of an early Roman fortress have been unearthed beneath Exeter Cathedral’s cloister garden.

The finds include part of a street, and timber buildings, believed to be a barracks of the legionary base built during the start of the colonisation of Britain in about AD 50-75. A stone bath-house, thought to be part of the fort which extends under the centre of Exeter, was exposed under the adjacent cathedral green in the early 1970s.

The latest excavations — part of the cathedral’s project to build a new cloister gallery (News, 20 May 2022) — also revealed a wall of a previously unknown Roman town-house of the third and fourth centuries. The new gallery will be built on the foundations of the medieval cloisters, which were demolished in 1656.

The work is part of Exeter Cathedral’s 2020s Development Appeal, which seeks to raise £10 million to create the new gallery, repair stonework on the medieval Chapter House, conserve the cathedral’s 50 medieval misericords, install a sustainable heating zoning system, and provide a new visitor interpretation of the cathedral’s history.

The 19th-century Pearson Building near by is also being adapted to house a treasures exhibition, and a shop with new lifts and lavatories. The appeal has already received £4.3 million from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, and £1.9 million from trusts, foundations, and corporate and private donors.

The Dean of Exeter, the Very Revd Jonathan Greener, said: “It doesn’t take long for someone coming to the cathedral to experience the problems we plan to address. Our lighting has been condemned. It doesn’t work for visitors or users, and offers nothing to display and interpret the heritage.

“Our heating is failing at ground level, and is damaging the 14th-century high-level stonework. Our WCs are woeful, and very difficult to access, and our 50 exquisite 13th-century misericord seats in the quire — probably the most significant set in the world — are in peril. It will be wonderful to conserve them, and watch people enjoy discovering them and the stories they tell about medieval Exeter.”

As part of the cathedral’s fund-raising efforts, it has recently launched “Adopt a Stone,” an initiative which offers people a chance to “adopt” a piece of the new cloister gallery. Options range from a single stone block to an entire doorway.

Information about the 2020s Development Appeal and the Adopt a Stone scheme are available here 

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