Our stalls of the thirteenth century were no doubt devoid of canopies, as these seem not to have come in so early. But the presumption is that canopies were now provided by Stapledon. For it is very difficult to imagine that, at a time when (as we shall see presently) so rich and glorious a canopy was placed over the Bishop's seat in the Choir, there were no corresponding features added to the seats of the Dean, Precentor, and other members of the Cathedral body. Stapledon then, probably, supplied such a series of canopies as Sir Gilbert Scott has now erected. Dr. Oliver (p. 210) arrives at the same conclusion, viz., that "we cannot doubt that the stalls were in correct keeping with the episcopal throne."
It may be objected that Bishop Lacy, in the fifteenth century, gave hangings to be placed behind the stalls of the Canons and Vicars, to protect them from the wind and cold (Oliver, p. 205). But these were, perhaps, suspended above the stalls, and so hung down but partially behind them; whence we read, sixty years later (ibid) of "panni pendentes in choro:" (47) the object of them being rather to protect the entire Choir than the actual backs of the Canons, which would, in ordinary canopied stalls, be protected by a wooden backing. There is, however, another not improbable conjecture; viz., that the stalls, though canopied, had an open arcading of stone behind them such as has been placed there in the recent restoration This is rendered probable by the existence of somewhat similar arcadings behind the stalls at Canterbury; and still more by the open backs, peculiar to our cathedral, of the existing sedilia on the south side of the altar. It is further countenanced by the open screen-work, of later date, on both sides of the presbytery; and by the cornices, apparently of Staple-don's date, which now surmount the new arcades, and may well have discharged the same office towards older ones.
The "misereres," already mentioned, call for an especial word of notice for the quaintness and beauty of their carving. These fall under three heads: - (1) Foliage. (2) Figures from real life; a lion, with a serpent biting his heel; an elephant, probably the earliest carving of one in England; pairs of fishes and doves; combat of man and beast; a man playing pipe and tabor; another throwing a great stone; another upholding the seat. (3) Grotesque monsters and nondescripts; two Centaurs with bow and arrow; a Nebuchadnezzar, saddled, with hind hoofs and fore claws; mermen and mermaids; lion with bird's claws; birds with human hands, heads, and head-dresses, and flowery tails; a double bird with one human head; a swan drawing a knight in a boat, thought to refer to an old Bohemian story. It is worthy of remark that Bishop Bruere, to whose time these misereres may, as has been said above, be safely ascribed, had spent live years in the East: to which may perhaps be attributed the strange and foreign character of many of the subjects; especially the introduction, probably unique, of the elephant. The new stalls, lately erected in the Choir, follow up the lead of the misereres, having foliage, animals, and human figures in great profusion, with an occasional grotesque subject.
We pass on to a remarkable and undoubted work of Stapledon's, viz., the Bishop's canopied seat, or throne, in the Choir. This, by a strange anachronism, has been referred by our historians to Bishop Bothe (c. 1470); and Dr. Oliver thinks it "evidently of his time" (p. 210). But the Fabric Rolls and the style concur in assigning it to Stapledon. In 1312 we have a charge for "timber for the Bishop's seat, œ6 12s. 81/2d." But the oak (from Newton and Chudleigh) was wisely kept for four years. It is not till 1316 that we find œ4 paid to Robert de Galmeton (Yealmpton?) "for making the Bishop's seat by contract, (ad tascum, i.e., by task-work)." There is also a charge of œ1 10s. for painting, and must have been one for carving the statues in the tabernacle work (48). The cost of this vast and exquisitely carved canopy (about 12 guineas) is surprisingly small, even for those days. It was evidently intended to have a chair placed under it, and probably seats for the Bishop's chaplains, right and left of him. The carved work, which has been pronounced by good artists to be of unrivalled excellence, consists chiefly of foliage, with knops or finials of great beauty, surmounting tabernacled niches. The pinnacle corners are enriched with every variety of heads of animals; as the ox, sheep, dog, pig, monkey, etc. Unfortunately it must be a matter of mere conjecture what the "ymagines" or statuettes were, which occupied the niches: the figure of St. Peter probably filled the topmost one.
But even this marvel of canopy work in wood is surpassed in beauty by the similar, but still more delicate one in stone, with which Stapledon adorned the "sedilia" of the reconstructed Choir. The "sedilia," it need not be said, are the "seats" par excellence; being intended for the use of the Clergy, or of the Bishop and Clergy, during part of the Church's most solemn services. They have been well described as "canopied and graduated stalls, for the Celebrant, with the sub-Deacon on his right and the Deacon on his left; or in England, more usually, for the Priest on the east, and then the Deacon and sub-Deacon (49)," recognised in our 24th Canon as the Gospeller and Epistoler. It is further remarkable, and is the key to some very interesting peculiarities in our sedilia, as well as to certain entries in our Bolls, that the earliest use of sedilia was, as we learn from the writer just quoted, to serve as the Bishop's throne, with seats for his assistants in ministration. " A single stall, near an altar, is found even in the Catacombs:" while " the earlier form" of the combined sedilia, occurring "in the catacombs, and repeated in the St. David's Cathedral, was a Bishop's throne, flanked by collateral seats." And there is very strong reason for saying that our sedilia, besides discharging their usual functions, had an especial reference to the Episcopal Office. The Act Book of the Chapter of Exeter for the year 1639 contains an interesting record of a Visitation held by Archbishop Laud on the 20th of July in that year, at which he laid down the following Injunction: "Whereas the ancient monuments of King Edward the Confessor, and Egytha his Queen, and Leofric, first Bishop of Exeter, have, by injury of time, been much neglected and defaced; it is hereby ordered, that the same shall forthwith be repaired and beautified, and so kept from tyme to tyme clean and decent." This long forgotten Injunction, which appears to have been unknown to Dr. Oliver, is extracted, with a brief comment, explaining to what it refers, by Lyttelton, Dean of Exeter (afterwards Bishop of Carlisle), in his valuable remarks, published in 1754 by the Society of Antiquaries; a copy of which is in the Chapter library. And there can be no sort of doubt, unlikely as it may seem at first sight, that the injunction refers to our sedilia, as they then were. In proof of this, I remark, first, that just above each of the three seats is a small head; the centre one, though all are much mutilated, manifestly a Bishop's; those to the east and west of it being, no less manifestly, a male and a female head. This singular appropriation of the seats, by the way of symbol, involving so wide a departure from the primary and proper use of sedilia, can not otherwise be explained than by recurring (as Dean Lyttelton remarks) to the curious and well attested facts connected with the consecration of the original Cathedral, and enthronement of the first Bishop, Leofric; of which a full account will be found at the close of this History. The most probable supposition is, that the fact of his having been placed in his Episcopal seat by Edward the Confessor and Eadgytha, each taking him by one arm (as is attested by our Charter of Foundation), was traditionally preserved ever after in the Cathedral, by means of the sedilia; which thus served as an historic monument no less than as a ritual accessory. This tradition, including perhaps contemporary effigies of the personages concerned, Stapledon would naturally hand on in an enriched and beautified form. Accordingly, besides the small heads attached to the seats themselves, as just described, the canopied work is found, on examination, to contain three large niches, each about 5ft. in height, which evidently contained statues; the sockets still remaining. And that one of them contained the statue of Queen Eadgytha, we have all but absolute proof. Such a statue, and that, too, evidently of considerable size, certainly existed in the Cathedral six years after Laud's Visitation; who little dreamt, as we may remark by the way, that his Injunction would remain in force for so short a time, and continue in a state of suspension and oblivion for 200 years. Among the ravages committed by Fairfax's army, after the siege and capitulation of the city in 1645, the following is recorded by a contemporary writer, Dr. Bruno Ryves, in the "Mercurius Busticus " newspaper, printed at Oxford in 1646 (Oliver, City of Exeter, p. 120.; "They pluck down and deface the statue of an ancient queen, the wife of Edward the Confessor, mistaking it for the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary." We cannot be mistaken in believing that this statue was one of three, which occupied the niches in question; the other two being King Edward and Leofric: and that all three were removed and destroyed at this time, though this one attracted especial notice and insult. We can now better understand the language of Laud's Injunction, about preserving the "monuments " of these personages: a term not very likely to be applied to the small heads, but very suitable if there were full-length statues known to represent them.