Exeter - Blessed Sacrament

29 Fore Street, Heavitree, Exeter, Devon

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An interesting and highly inventive inter-war church, apparently designed by Fr Tymons, parish priest of the time, richly fitted out and furnished. The church bears strong similarities to St Paul’s church at Plymouth, built slightly later for Fr Tymons.

The parish was established in 1930 and the first priest Fr James Tymons, who lived in Heavitree House and said Mass in the small chapel there.  Fr Tymons was something of an amateur architect with a good knowledge of Roman basilicas; five churches in the Diocese were built to a greater o0r lesser extent under his direction. The architect John Basil Lowden Tolhurst was commissioned to design a new church at Heavitree on the basis of sketches by Fr Tymons, but was dismissed in March 1931 and the church was apparently built under the parish priest’s supervision. The first Mass was held in May 1932.  Apparently some of the marble columns and wall linings in the church were brought from Marley House, Woodbury at the time of its demolition. The church was bomb damaged in 1942, and all the original stained glass lost.

The design of the church is said to be based on the great Early Christian basilica of San Paolo fuori le Mura in Rome, but the exterior has more the character of an 18th century English parish church, curiously elaborated.  The external walls are faced in red brick laid in Flemish bond, with quoins and ornaments of concrete, painted to resemble stone.  The plan of the building comprises a nave with north and south aisles, with a square tower at the west end of the north aisle and an apsidal sanctuary with a semi-domed roof. This description belies the elaborate character of the exterior.  All the elaboration is concentrated on the north side of the building which faces the road.  The tower is of two unequal stages. The lower stage contains a wide round-headed moulded doorway; the upper stage has a single round-headed window with an oculus over and a small blind arcade at roof level.  There was originally a bell-stage above this level with paired windows on each face, but this was presumably lost as a result of war damage.

 

Above the tower doorway is a heavy cornice, which is continued eastwards along the north aisle.  In the centre of the aisle is a projecting hexastyle pedimented portico on green marble columns with concrete Corinthian capitals, which shelters a second wide round-headed doorway.  On each side of the portico the aisle wall breaks forward in small projections with oculus windows, and these projections form the bases for two sculptural groups; on the right Malachias,St Johnthe Baptist and St Andrew, on the left two angels. The nave clerestorey behind has five round headed windows and an arcaded parapet with a central niche with a golden monstrance executed in mosaic. The heavy aisle cornice is continued around the apsidal sanctuary on a peripteral screen of concrete columns with Corinthian capitals.  The sanctuary has a copper-covered semi-domed roof.  The south elevation is a complete contrast to the north, austere to the point of bleakness; the aisle is windowless, the nave clerestorey has six round-headed windows.  There are no other ornaments.

 

The basilican interior is clearly inspired by Italy, with a wide nave with a parquet floor divided from the narrow windowless side aisles by six-bay arcades of round arches borne on columns of Breche Violette marble with black marble bases. Above the arcades is a moulded cornice and the plain plastered clerestorey walls with round headed windows.  The nave has a flat coffered ceiling with egg and dart ornament.  At the west end of the nave is a gallery, beneath which is a triple arched opening to the small baptistery and a chapel.  The confessionals are on the south side and occupy one of the projections which form the bases for the external statuary groups; the other is occupied by the small Lady Chapel, which is lined with various marbles.  At the east end of the nave is a broad semi-circular arch on green marble columns and pilasters with Corinthian capitals opening to the semi-domed Sanctuary which has a black and white chequerwork marble floor and houses the main altar under a large domed baldacchino borne on grey marble columns.

 

The fittings are mainly original and include the benches, the High Altar and baldacchino, the marble font and various decorative reliefs in the south aisle. 

Diocese: Plymouth

Architect: J.B.L. Tolhurst and Fr James Tymons

Original Date: 1931

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Not listed