Such then was our Cathedral, - robbed of early splendours, extensively crumbled by decay, unworthily furnished, bare with monotony of yellow-wash - when its restoration was entered upon, under the guidance of Sir Gilbert Scott, in the year 1870. Of that restoration as a whole the point kept steadily in view may be said to have been to realize again so far as altered circumstances would permit, and where desirable to develop, the masterly conception of its original Builders.
Bearing this in mind a survey of the restored Choir, (to take that portion first), enables us to recognise in many respects its appearance as inherited from Bitton and Stapledon, In the first place, the gilding of bosses and colouring of ribs and cells of the vaulting have given back to the roof its original richness. Not that the work here claims to be a literal reproduction; for neither are the corbels regilded nor do the colours above rigidly correspond to those formerly employed, - experiment having proved in this as in other instances that an exact resuscitation of mediaeval colouring cannot be relied on to commend itself to modern judgment. Nevertheless, it is a point of the first importance to have regained substantially the original tone in such a feature as the roof which largely dominates the atmosphere of the whole. The effect would be greatly enhanced in this respect were it duly borne out by by the restorations of the stained glass of the Clerestory windows. This was a matter to which the early builders evidently assigned much importance, hastening, where possible, toinsert stained glass as soon as the windows were ready for it. Historically, it will be remembered, our Cathedral holds an almost unique place in the fulness of its records bearing upon its original stained glass. From the lights which survive and from the fragments worked up into the feeble glazing that now fills the unrestored windows, there could be little technical difficulty in restoring the stained glass of the Clerestory as the fitting complement of the colouring of the roof.
Much care and cost has been bestowed upon the floor of the Choir. Here the endeavour has been to give a suitable development to the original pavement, which may very probably have been less ornate that which has now been laid down. The expanse for treatment was considerable, since, in obedience to a well-established ecclesiological principle the entire space to the eastward of the Episcopal Throne is left clear of fixed benches. The original steps of Hamhill stone, dating from 1301, remain in situ, but otherwise the floor is new, and is formed of a blending of marbles and stones with encaustic tiles. Many of the former being from local beds the peculiar richness of the district in this respect is very fitly exhibited, rendering the pavement here in some sense an epitome of the geographical area of the Diocese. The quarry at Pocombe close to Exeter yields the pale red stone which pervades the whole. Another noticeable feature here is a collective memorial of the line of building Bishops who were chiefly instrumental in making the Cathedral what it is. On the surface of the plateau that rises eastward of the Throne may be seen displayed the arms of Warelwast who built, and of Marshall who extended, the Norman Cathedral; of Bruere, and Bronescombe, whose works were in the Chapter House and the Eastward side Chapels respectively; of Quivil who designed, and in part carried out, the great Transformation (' Fundator novi operis'); of Bitton who completed, and Stapledon who equipped, the Choir; of Grandisson who transformed the Nave, and of Oldham who screened off the Chapels. Their tombs and the work which bears the touch of each are their separate memorials. Here they are assembled as fellow-workers in a joint achievement.
Gathering additional richness about the Altar the pavement is figured in the sacrarium with evangelists and prophets, thus reflecting in part the subjects graven on the bosses overhead. The Altar itself (it need hardly be said), is new, that of the 14th Century having long disappeared. It is, however, a matter of some interest that a marble slab has lately come to light which, from its being ensigned with five crosses after the well known rule, and from its great length, may be regarded with every probability as having served at some former time as altar-stone to the chief altar of the Church. The so-called Tomb of Leofric, a monument erected by the historian Hoker (Note 4) in the South Transept, on being recently taken to pieces proved to be constructed in part out of an Altar slab of which only a portion was employed, but sufficient to indicate by its crosses its original use, and that its length when entire must have been no less than 10 feet 10 inches. Stapledon's altar is commonly regarded as having been of silver; but this would not include the slab or mensa, for which the employment of stone was de rigeur. Such a phrase as 'tabula argentea' (Note 57) would apply strictly to the front of the rectangular structure upon which the mensa was borne. (Walcott, Archceo-logy, 8.v. 'Altar'). Other fragments of decorated tabernacle work and Purbeck shafts, etc., out of which this misleading memorial was oddly compounded are considered by Mr. Fulford, the well-known Church Architect, to be portions of Stapledon's elaborate Reredos. The removal of the high Altar of stone under a well-known Order in Council in the year 1550 and the destruction of its ornate accompaniments at the same time would thus appear to have furnished material which the antiquarian instincts of Hoker caused to be incorporated a few years later (1568) in his monument to the memory of Leofric. However this may be, no attempt has been made to reproduce the magnificent 'tablatura' in which Staple-don's Choir culminated. The present reredos, happily unimpaired by misadventures which accompanied its erection, is a graceful work presenting centrally the Transfiguration, with the Ascension, and the Descent of the Holy Ghost on either side. With its delicate canopies of alabaster, and sculptures wrought in bold relief, its inlay of choice marbles, its redundance of costly stones, and its attendant angel-figures, it en-shrines a multitude of ideas well harmonising with its place and purpose. In point of magnitude it has been subordinated to a desire to admit the view from the Choir eastward into the recesses of the retrochoir and the Lady Chapel beyond. And in furtherance of the same intention a transverse dwarf-wall carrying a lightly-fashioned screen of iron to form the lateral extensions of the Reredos has been preferred to more solid treatment. The chief historical interest at this part of the Church necessarily attaches to the Sedilia. Here the work of restoration has consisted of a replacement, minute and painstaking to the full degree demanded by so exquisite a relic, of innumerable decays and damages. The exceeding beauty of this triple throne will never perhaps be fully realized until statues are given back to the airy niches prepared for them.