It is known that a monastery, or community church, existed in this location as long ago as the 7th century, but the cathedral standing today, although never a monastery itself, was built mainly between the early 12th century and mid 14th century. Before 1050, Devon and Cornwall each had their own cathedrals at Crediton and St Germans respectively, but Bishop Leofric decided to unite the diocese with a cathedral at Exeter. He also left a treasured collection of books to Exeter Cathedral upon his death, including a 10th century work of Anglo-Saxon poems.
By the late 13th century, Bishop Bronescombe had seen the completion of the glorious Salisbury Cathedral, and realised how inadequate his own facilities were at Exeter. So, in 1270 he decided on a major rebuilding programme to improve the earlier structure and enhance the decorative features to provide Exeter Cathedral, with a splendid richness. It was the work begun by him that shaped the cathedral seen today. The great Norman twin towers built at the crossing form the oldest part of the present cathedral, and were an unusual feature that Bronescombe retained.
Starting at the east end of the church with a Lady Chapel, the Bishop only saw the south side completed before he died, and this is where he was buried. A splendid effigy of him remains today in the Lady Chapel, as well as a beautifully carved early 14th century sedilia. Both treasures are remarkably preserved due to their removal before World War II, along with the magnificently carved oak canopy over the Bishop's Throne.
Exeter Cathedral continued to flourish, with essential restoration work and improvements being made right through to the time of the Dissolution. However, the cathedral was more fortunate than most and suffered little vandalisation at that time, even the ornamental ceiling bosses and many corbels remain virtually unscathed. In 1655 the cloisters were destroyed but, during a massive restoration programme undertaken by Sir George Gilbert Scott some 200 years later when he transformed the Quire, they were partially rebuilt. The second world war also made an impact on Exeter, nearly destroying the ancient city and severely damaging the cathedral. Thankfully, the structure remained sound and the chapels were rebuilt incorporating fragments of salvaged materials.
Exeter Cathedral is a haven of ornate beauty with an abundance of finely carved stone sculptures, magnificent stained glass windows - some still containing pieces of medieval glass - the cold, polished luxury of Purbeck marble, and the unrivalled splendour of the vaulted nave with its colourful roof bosses. With continual conservation, and the loving attention that is shown to Exeter Cathedral, this most wondrous monument should provide as much pleasure, both visually and spiritually, for many more centuries to come.