Bishop of Exeter

Bishop of Exeter

The Bishop of Exeter is the Ordinary of the Church of England Diocese of Exeter in the Province of Canterbury. The incumbent usually signs his name as "Exon" or incorporates this in his signature.


The history of Christianity in the South West of England remains to some degree obscure. At a certain point the historical county of Devon formed part of the diocese of Wessex. About 703 Devon and Cornwall were formed into the separate diocese of Sherborne and in 900 this was again divided into two, the Devon bishop having from 905 his seat at Tawton (now Bishop's Tawton) and from 912 at Crediton, birthplace of St Boniface. Lyfing became Bishop of Crediton in 1027 and shortly afterwards became Bishop of St Germans.

The two dioceses of Crediton and St Germans, covering Devon and Cornwall, were permanently united under Edward the Confessor by Lyfing's successor Bishop Leofric, hitherto Bishop of Crediton, who became first Bishop of Exeter under Edward the Confessor, which was established as his cathedral city in 1050. At first the abbey church of St Mary and St Peter, founded by Athelstan in 932 and rebuilt in 1019, served as the cathedral.

The present cathedral was begun by Bishop William de Warelhurst in 1112, the transept towers he built being the only surviving part of the Norman building, which was completed by Bishop Marshall at the close of the twelfth century.

As it now stands, the cathedral is in the decorated style. It was begun by Bishop Quivil (1280-1291), continued by Bishops Bytton and Stapeldon, and completed, much as it has since remained, by Bishop Grandisson during his long pontificate of 42 years.

In many respects Exeter cathedral resembles those of France rather than others found in England. Its special features are the transept towers and the choir, containing much early stained glass. There is also an episcopal throne, separated from the nave by a choir screen (1324) and a stately West front. In a comparison with certain other English cathedrals, it is perhaps disadvantaged by the absence of a central tower and a general lack of elevation, but it is undoubtedly very fine.

The bishops of Exeter, like the general population of the diocese, always enjoyed considerable independence, and the see was one of the largest and richest in England. The remoteness of the see from London prevented it from being bestowed on statesmen or courtiers, so that over the centuries the roll of bishops possessed more capable scholars and administrators than in many other sees. The result was a long and stable line of bishops, leading to active Christian observance in the area.

The diocese contained 604 parishes grouped in four archdeaconries: Cornwall, Barnstaple, Exeter, and Totton. There were Benedictine, Augustinian, Premonstratensian, Franciscan and Dominican houses, and four Cistercian abbeys. The cathedral was dedicated to St Peter.

This wealthy diocese was forced to cede land during the reign of Henry VIII, when Bishop Vesey was obliged to surrender fourteen out of twenty-two manors, and the value of the see was reduced to a third of what it formerly was. Vesey, despite his Catholic sympathies, held the see until 1551, when he finally had to resign, and was replaced by the Bible translator Miles Coverdale.

Following the accession of Mary, in 1553, Vesey was restored, but died soon after in 1554. He was succeeded by James Turberville, the last Catholic Bishop of Exeter. Turberville was removed from the see by the Protestant Elizabeth I in 1559, and died in prison, probably in or about 1570.

Henry Phillpotts served as Lord Bishop of Exeter from 1830 to his death in office in 1869. He was England's longest serving bishop since the 12th century

The diocese was divided in 1877 along the Devon-Cornwall border, creating the Diocese of Truro.


The diocese covers the County of Devon. The see is in the City of Exeter where the seat is located at the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter which was founded as an abbey possibly before 690.

The current bishop is the Right Reverend Michael Laurence Langrish, the 70th Lord Bishop of Exeter, who signs "Michael Exon".


* Some text adapted from Catholic Encyclopaedia, 1908.

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