Stone me! Masons are at Exeter Cathedral

Chip off the old block (image courtesy: Diocese of Exeter)

They’re making ‘stiff leaf’ foliage

Some of the country’s most talented stonemasons have descended on Exeter Cathedral for an ornamental carving workshop.

They are from other cathedrals and will be working under the guidance of renowned carver Alan Micklethwaite, honing their skills in an ancient craft.

Each stonemason has to transform an eight-inch cube of French limestone into a ‘stiff leaf’ foliage, a classic feature of medieval church architecture.

It is part of a post-apprentice qualification which aims to preserve traditional craft skills for the conservation of cathedrals and other historic buildings.

Exeter Cathedral is one of 11 partner cathedrals in the Fellowship and employs six specialist masons. Clerk of works Chris Sampson says: “We have always been a close and enthusiastic member of the Cathedrals’ Workshop Fellowship, so it is fantastic to see students from cathedrals across England gathering here under our spectacular medieval stone vault ceiling at Exeter Cathedral.”

While at Exeter Cathedral, the students will also visit the site of its new Cloister Gallery development. Built on the foundations of the cathedral’s original medieval cloisters which were destroyed in 1657, the new Cloister Gallery will connect the cathedral with its Chapter House and Pearson buildings.

The work is being funded by Exeter Cathedral’s 2020s Development Appeal which aims to raise £10 million. The appeal has already received a £4.3 million grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, and a further £1.9 million from a range of other grant-giving trusts, founda-tions, corporate and private donors.

Further phases of the project will see approximately half of the Grade I listed heritage site con-served and refurbished. Works include conservation of the cathedral’s 50 medieval misericords (or ‘mercy seats’), a more sustainable heating zoning system, and new visitor interpretation to explain the history of the cathedral. Alongside the improvements, Exeter Cathedral has also launched a new programme of activities, designed to engage more of the local community with their heritage.

Following an intense week of learning in Exeter, the Cathedrals’ Workshop Fellowship students will return to their home cathedrals to finish their foliage carvings, before reconvening at Winchester Cathedral next month for a final presentation and assessment of their work.

Radio Exe: Local News