History & Architecture
St Michael & All Angels, Mount Dinham, is one of the most spectacular monuments of the Anglican Revival in Devon.
The church was planned in 1864 at the instigation of the Revd. Joseph Theophilus Toye, then incumbent of St David’s Parish Church, in memory of the eponymous Exeter Tea Merchant and philanthropist, John Dinham, as part of the redevelopment of the Mount Dinham site for charitable and educational purposes. Toye was an Oxford graduate with strong Tractarian sympathies, who was able to enlist the help of William Gibbs, a wealthy merchant with Exeter connections and a liberal and committed patron of 19th century ecclesiastical art.
Gibbs and Toye may have conceived the building as a flagship of Tractarian principles in architecture and liturgy, for the original concept of an almshouse chapel for the poor of the parish was subsequently elaborated into the magnificent ‘town church’ which exists today. The church was consecrated in 1868 by the Revd. John Medley, Bishop of Fredricton in Canada, at a service attended by many leading lights of the Oxford Movement in Devon.
The church was designed by Major Rohde Hawkins in the early French style, with a full cruciform plan and narrow passage aisles, allowing an uninterrupted view of the altar. The nave, transepts and chancel are exceptionally high, at 65 feet (20 m), and the crossing tower and spire rises 230 feet (70 m), dominating the western parts of the city.
The church was erected by the contractors William White of London in blue Westleigh stone, with dressings of Ham Hill stone. Throughout the church the decorative carving is of the highest quality, including naturalistic foliage sprays inhabited by real and mythical beasts carved by Hurley of Taunton.
The corbels in the chancel include Passion flowers and corn sheaves, symbolic of Our Lord, and also lilies and roses representing Our Lady. The elaborate sedilia, tiled flooring and reredos emphasise the sanctity of the chancel, and the setting of the font is enhanced by the richly carved western screen with a roundel showing St. Michael overcoming the Devil.
Recent research suggests that the unusual proportions and scale of the church may have been based on the dimensions of the King Solomon’s Temple at Jerusalem, as recorded in the sixth chapter of the first book of Kings. The design of the nave screen, with angels spreading their wings across the church may also be derived from the decorations of the temple.
Services at St Michael’s were notable from the start for the use of music as an integral part of the liturgy, and this tradition continues today.
Since the acquisition of William Gibbs’ home, Tyntesfield, by the National Trust, the church has begun to feature as one of the sites on the “Tyntesfield Trail” and it is hoped that the church will continue to appeal to visitors and worshippers as an example of commitment to Christian worship, both by its Victorian founders and craftsmen and by those who continue to offer themselves in worship here.
During recent years the Church has needed extensive repairs. Thanks to the generosity of individuals and grant giving organisations, donations from the general public and fundraising activities by the congregation, work on the conservation of our church continues. We are grateful to all those who have contributed towards these essential works of restoration to our much-loved and irreplaceable building.
To make a donation in support of the Heritage and Music at St Michael’s, please click here. All donations are gratefully received. Thank you.