Norman crypt excavated and re-buried at Exeter church

Top of column The columns were found to have intricate carving

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Columns from a Norman crypt which were excavated in August have been re-buried indefinitely, at a Devon church.

Two columns with intricate carvings were unearthed at St Stephen's Church on Exeter High Street.

It was the first time they had been seen since an excavation in 1826.

It had been hoped the columns would go on display, but the masonry was considered unsafe and the columns have now been re-buried.

Cathedral grandeur

Archaeologist Stewart Brown said: "There are only two known crypts in Devon and Cornwall and the other one's a Saxon crypt.

"This one has columns and is altogether more grand."

The two columns, which would have supported the roof of the crypt were topped by capitals with carved foliage.

Mr Brown said the columns had cathedral grandeur and were probably the last surviving parts of the crypt.

He said: "William Warelwast, who became the Bishop of Exeter in the early 12th Century was a very important man who did a massive amount of building in Exeter and this probably explains why we have such grand architecture.

"He may have had access to Norman masons as the work is very grand for a parish church and is comparable to Worcester Cathedral."

Remarkable survival

The columns were previously excavated in 1826 but the only information recorded was a watercolour painting, before the columns, just like this year, were covered over again.

Start Quote

It has a remarkable survival history and it's bang in the middle of the high street.”

End Quote Bob Snowden

Mr Brown said: "It has all been backfilled now. It had been suggested that it be left open for the public but we couldn't really because the masonry wasn't sound.

"I'll write a report but it will now be covered for an indefinite time."

Bob Snowdon who facilitated the project said: "It's been quite astounding, not only are we providing information but also the changes that took place in Exeter.

"The Normans arrived, then the civil war, from then it was the only building to remain after the blitz of 1942.

"It has a remarkable survival history and it's bang in the middle of the high street."

While the crypt may be covered up there are plans to create an information centre in the church.

Mr Snowden said: "The last time it was officially seen was 1826 so a few people have seen something that's not been seen for 185 years.

"Who knows, it might be another 200 years before someone else sees it."

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