Inscription on the porch steps

Andrey Rubylev icon


The inscription ‘be welcoming to strangers; you may be entertaining angels unawares’ on the top step in the porch entrance is from the New Testament book of Hebrews, 13:2, and refers back to a story recorded in Genesis 18:1-15.  This tells how Abraham offers great hospitality to three passing strangers before he discovers that they are in fact God himself, or, as the Hebrews verse suggests, angels in disguise – angels being messengers of God.  Hence the idea, neatly conveyed in one sentence, that God can be encountered in anyone we meet.

The story is depicted in the famous 15th Century icon by St Andrey Rublev, entitled ‘The hospitality of Abraham, but frequently referred to as ‘The Old Testament Trinity’.


Images on Glass Porch Screen

The symbolism of the glass images reflects the continuum of the Living Water linking the ancient Christian Symbol of  the fish of the sea and the wild goose in the sky, and the timeless link between Place and Spirit.

The Cross

The cross super-imposed on the East wall behind the communion table reminds us not just of Jesus’s crucifixion, but is also a symbol of rebirth and regeneration, a design of light and shade and a spiritual focus which varies with the light that strikes it.

Tapestry: Pieces of Light

The altar frontal and wall hangings on the east wall of the Bow were designed and made by the nationally known tapestry maker, Bobbie Cox in 1985/6. The brief was to give light and colour to the existing east wall, thus providing a focus of attention, capable of being enjoyed and interpreted by all who enter the church, regardless of background or commitment. In the artist’s own words They should be able to make something of it for themselves.’                                                                                    
It was named ‘Pieces of Light’, referring to a major series Bobbie Cox was working on, called ‘Pieces of Daytime’ and also to a quotation from Piers Plowman, where ‘pieces of light’ is an image of Christ’s power breaking through.                                                                                
The whole composition centres on the altar top where a simple cross stands, to which point pieces of light fail in broad bands from the wall hangings supported from below by the stronger, red Devon earth colours of the frontal. The movement is not just inward focussing, but also outward pouring, breaking into ever smaller fragments of light towards the top where the colours are lightest. It can also be perceived as taking the form of a large cross or human figure with outstretched arms.



Royal Coats of Arms

There are two Royal Coats of Arms on display in St Stephen’s. That above the gallery is a rare example of a Charles I dedication made in 1640 during the run-up to the civil war. During this war the loyalties of the Exeter people were divided and this is demonstrated by the message ‘God save the King’ painted on the back of the carving. It is speculated that a member of the congregation hid the Coat of Arms during the Commonwealth period when it was illegal to display such signs of monarchy, and returned it in 1660 when the church was re-opened on the restoration of King Charles II
The second Royal Coat of Arms can be seen above the Bow door. The horse within the coat of arms indicates it is a Hannoverian king- the horse still being the symbol of Hannover today, and it’s George !V with a date of 1820. The names “W.Piper and G. Wippell, wardens’ are recorded with the date on the back.