And now, with Quivirs accession, the 90 years' interregnum comes to an end. The Early English period, not unfruitful in accessories, but barren of operations on a large scale, closes; and the glorious Decorated period, the flower of Gothic architecture, sets in. It extends, for us, over yet another 90 years, viz., from Quivirs first year (1280), to Grandisson's last (1369); and to it we owe, in the main, our Cathedral as it is. I have already indicated the importance of Bishop Marshall's work, hitherto imperfectly appreciated. It is of still more importance that we should realise and appreciate Quivil's.
It was probably before his advancement from a Canonry to the Bishopric, that a magnificent conception had matured itself in the mind of the great master builder: - no other than the transformation of the Norman Cathedral into one of another style. A gigantic undertaking indeed, but (as I shall fully prove hereafter) really carried out. We can only say of it "There were giants in the earth in those days." For nearly two centuries, the heavy and stern old Norman edifice had frowned in stone upon the worshippers. To transmute this, without any pulling down, into a structure of the most airy lightness and grace, was a daring project indeed; the realisation of which was destined to be unremittingly prosecuted, through nearly a whole century, by men every way fitted to the task. And Quivil make the first plunge: -
"He was the first that ever burst Into that silent sea."
His first work was the transformation of the great transeptal crossing from Romanesque ponderousness to Gothic grace. To appreciate the manner in which he initiated the process of translating the massive Norman-French into elegant Middle-Pointed English, we must take our stand in the transept crossing; say at the south-west angle, looking north-east. The great features are the mazy window, fluted arches, branched vaulting, and slender Purbeck shafts, and the pierced balconies attached to the massive Norman walls. Quivil did not, however, as is commonly supposed, originate the pointed transeptal arches. What he did was to enrich the already existing arches and piers, and take down the partition walls, which still extended some way up to the towers. But we owe him much more than this. As will be shown at large in a later page the whole idea of the transformation was his; as we may almost be sure that he left behind him the plans for it. And so entire was the metamorphosis, as not unfairly to have won for him the title of "Founder of the New Cathedral," which the "Exeter Chronicle," (15th century) has given him: (ad m.cc.lxxx.viii. Fundata est haec nova ecclesia a venerabili patre Petro hujus Eccl. Episcopo). He was in reality Fundator novi operis. (Fabric Roll, 1308).
The document providing for his obsequies records that "he enlarged the Church in respect of the new work therein;"(17) referring, apparently, to his throwing the whole of the Towers into it, thus converting them into Transepts. It is added, that he finished the greater part of the work at his own expense. Hence the Fabric Rolls, which only record works done at the common charge, mention nothing beyond the throwing down of the walls, and the enlargement of the windows. The costly work of fluting the earlier arches and pillars, and of substituting Purbeck marble shafts for stone, finds no mention there. How far therefore, Quivil's work extended westward into the Nave, we have no documentary evidence at this period to prove. I shall show by and bye, from later documents, that he completed the eastern bay of the Nave. But his greatest work was the transformation of the Transepts.(18)
And here it may be observed, that our Cathedral Historians (see list of their works, with dates, prefixed to this volume), are, to a great extent, utterly at fault as to the dates of the several parts of the building. Hoker evidently thought that Warelwast (1112), built the whole of the Choir, as it is now. Hence he concluded - for manifestly it was merely his own inference, - that the present Lady Chapel, exactly as it is, in respect of size, was the then Cathedral. Having no architectural knowledge, he and his fellows easily fell into errors of this kind. Thus he says, "Anno 1112, Bishop Warelwast began to enlarge his Cathedral Church, which at that time was no bigger than that part which is now the Lady Chapel, and laid the foundation of the Choir or Quier," (p. 102). He evidently supposed, too, that all that Marshall did was to finish off this Choir with the Transepts: there being as yet no Nave whatsoever. For he proceeds to ascribe to Quivil the original erection of the entire Nave: "Anno 1284, Peter Quivil, Bishop, finding the Chancel of his Church to be builded and finish'd to his hands, begin-neth and foundeth the lower part or body of his Church, from the Quier westwards" (p. 103). And again, "He first began to enlarge and increase his Church from the Chancel downwards, and laid the foundation thereof," (p. 119). In all this, I need not say, there is an utter misconception of the whole matter.(19) The Nave had been finished eighty years at least: the Choir, for purposes of service, extending two bays down it; as will be shewn hereafter. Quivil's work, therefore, was properly not one of founding, but of transformation only.(20)
Another admirable feat of transformation which may, on various grounds, be safely ascribed to Quivil, is that of the Lady Chapel. We have seen (Note 13) that there was an earlier Lady Chapel, of about Marshall's date, and endeavoured to form some idea of its character. We have also seen that Bronescombe did a certain work of restoration in the Gabriel and Magdalene Chapels: which, no doubt, were coeval with the Lady Chapel: and that we can hardly be mistaken in assigning their present north and south windows to him. Now in the Fabric Roll of 1284-5, there are charges (see Oliver p. 379) for work done in S. Mary Magdalene's Chapel; and, as it seems, for making the windows there larger.(21) And accordingly we find, both there and in S. Gabriel's, east windows greatly in advance, in style, upon those north and south ones which we have ascribed to Bronescombe. They are therefore, it would seem certain, Quivil's. And that he shortly after proceeded, from this beginning (which evidently extended to an entire re-casting of those Chapels(22) except two of Bronescombe's windows), to transform the Lady Chapel in the same style, the agreement of the mouldings throughout demonstrates. We have, it is true, no notice of the work in the Rolls. But then the Rolls for the last seven years of Quivil's episcopate, 1285-1291, are not forthcoming. That the work, however, really was his, and that he had devoted himself especially to it, appears certain, from his having been buried in the centre of the Chapel; as well as from the provision made by the Chapter after his death, that he should be commemorated first among all benefactors at every Celebration in that Chapel(23) Certain things, indeed, were left for Bitton to complete: more especially the painting of the bosses, and the leading: which were not done until Bitton's ninth and eleventh years, as we shall see presently. But we have pretty certain grounds for ascribing all the rest to the earlier of these two prelates. The recessing and arcading of the walls up to the window sills, the shafts, sedilia, and double piscina, - generally characteristic of the 13th century - have an early air, and must be Quivil's. The windows, it is true, exhibit an advance, in style, upon Quivil's windows in the Transepts (see Note 18). But they accord closely with those of Merton College, Oxford, of like date: and we have seen reason for ascribing to him the similar windows in the side Chapels. This view is confirmed by the early character of the vaulting-rib-mouldings as compared with those of the Choir, - Bitton's undoubted work, as we shall see presently. On the whole, we may fairly, I think, leave Quivil "alone with his glory," as regards our beautiful Lady Chapel, and the Chapels adjoining it.