The Chapter House was originally built to provide a large and dignified administrative centre in which the medieval Dean and Chapter could meet at regular intervals to transact their most important business.
It was built by about 1227 and contains the grave of Serlo, the first Dean of Exeter (who was also the Archdeacon of Exeter) who died in 1231. This appointment brought Exeter in line with the popular administrative solution for secular cathedrals of the time with a Dean to preside, a Precentor for music, a Treasurer to guard the movable property (including the bells) and to make sure of lights and security, and a Chancellor to take responsibility for the 24 prebends (for livings). Others posts were usually held by the Archdeacons and even by the Bishop himself.
The ‘Canonici Prebendati’ met regularly on Saturdays and their decisions were recorded in Chapter Acts, many of which still survive in the Cathedral Archive. These acts show that the Chapter House was in continual use, except during the Interregnum of the Commonwealth period (1646-1660).
The building was burnt down at the beginning of the fifteenth century and rebuilt in about 1412. In 1820 it was shelved to accommodate the Library but this structure was removed before the end of the century. In 1969 it was given a thorough restoration and at that time it was decided to commission sculptures for the empty niches.
The Carter Sculptures
The sculptor, Kenneth Carter, was commissioned by Dean Chapman and the Chapter, following restoration of the Chapter House in 1969. The sculptures were placed in the niches in 1974. Mr Carter chose as his theme ‘Creation’. The sculptures on the south wall draw their inspiration from the New Testament, and on the north wall from the Old Testament. They progress from darkness at the west end to light by the east window and the subjects refer to one another across the hall.