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St Martins Church - Cathedral Close

Page updated 18 May 2009

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This is one of the oldest churches in Exeter and was consecrated by Bishop Leofric on 6th July 1065. As Bishop Leofric came from Burgundy, the church was dedicated to St Martin of Tours, the patron saint of beggars. Some original Anglo-Saxon stonework in the walls remains from this period including the use of Beer stone. The church is on a cramped and skewed site, forcing the nave and chancel onto different axis.

Most of the church was refurbished between 1420 and 1455, including the west window which was presented by Bishop Lacy, while the furnishing dates from the 17th and 18th-centuries. The roughcast tower is built of red Heavitree sandstone. The roof is a typical Devon style 'wagon' roof, although the mullions are made of wood, rather than stone. The porch was added in the 19th century.

Inside, the altar table, altar rails and communion wall seats are Jacobean in period. The font was made in two halves, the upper marble section of a later date than the lower part. The church has several interesting memorials, including one to the Hooper family, and the window on the south side has the coat of arms of the Kingdon family, probably donated by 'Iron' Sam Kingdon. The coat of arms of Charles I can be found on the south wall, probably after it was hidden in the tower after the Civil War. The ten commandments have been found under the paintwork behind the altar. There is a gallery at the west end, under the window. The window was in a poor state of repair – in the 1970's it was recommended that it be replaced, but after consideration, it was preserved and 75% of the original remains.

The single bell weighs about 11 cwt (550 kilos) and was cast in 1675 by Thomas Pennington III from Exeter. The defunct parish of St Martins stretched from Broadgate to St Martins Lane and the High Street to Cathedral Yard and covered only 1.75 acres (0.7 hectares). In 1821 there were 329 residents in 62 houses - now all the houses are shops and offices.

Source: Plan and notes of Maurice Swansborough.

St Martin's ChurchSt Martin's Church interior at a time when it was uncared for.
St Martin's ChurchArguably, one of the finest views in Exeter with St Martin's and Mol's Coffee House in the corner of Cathedral Close.

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