St Sidwell’s Community Centre and Devon Voice Group are co-hosting this year’s Sidwella Day celebration of Exeter’s patron saint and Exeter and Devon culture and heritage on Saturday 30 July.
There will be food, music, guest speakers and Devon dialect readings.
Speakers include historian Todd Gray, former Lord Mayor Olwen Foggin, folklore expert Mark Norman and food historian Paul Cleave.
There will also be music from singer-songwriter Jim Causley and Devonian dialect and folk music expert Bill Murray.
The Sidwella Day celebration is at 3-6pm on Saturday 30 July 2022 at St Sidwell’s Community Centre.
Entry is free but donations are welcome. Book your place via Eventbrite.
St Sidwell’s Community Centre, which opened in 2001, is an independent, entirely secular charity which welcomes everyone regardless of background, ability or circumstance and offers a range of activities, events and services for the local community.
It runs a community café, a bakery and cookery school and free English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes.
The centre also manages a large community garden, where events are held and organic fruit and vegetables are grown for use in the café, offers meeting rooms for hire to local groups and acts as a local heritage hub for Exeter city centre’s eastern quarter.
There are volunteering and work experience opportunities across all areas of the centre’s work.
Sidwella Day is celebrated in honour of the patron saint of Exeter and namesake of Sidwell Street.
Sidwella, who is believed to have lived during the 6th century, is said to have been a modest, chaste, virginal, devout and courageous local lass. At least she was until a couple of farmworkers apparently killed her with a scythe.
The truth of this is far from certain, since the story appears to have been sexed up by Bishop Grandisson in the 14th century. He introduced a wicked stepmother into the story, who paid the farmworkers to do the deed, and the miraculous creation of a water spring where she fell.
Nothing is known about Sidwella’s taste in architecture and we can only imagine what she might have made of today’s Sidwell Street, including the current 1957-58 replacement for the original Saxon St Sidwell’s Church.
It was designed by the same firm that bequeathed the city the nearby supermarket building.
She might, however, have concluded that the 21st century was not beyond redemption if she visited today and discovered what goes on within the former church’s walls.
The building is now divided into three parts: a small chapel at the west end, social housing on the two upper floors and the community centre itself.
The chapel is used for services by a small but faithful congregation. Its centrepiece is a stunning stained glass window by the Bideford artist James Paterson installed in 1958, juxtaposing the murder of Sidwella with the 1942 bombing of the previous 19th century church on the site.
Sidwella is not a “saint” in the sense of having been canonised but rather a local “martyr” recognised by the local bishop, a practice which became so uncontrolled that in the 16th century the Catholic Church took over and centralised authority for canonisations in Rome.
However she could instead be seen variously as a symbol for civil society (the transfer of most of the church building to the community centre), the natural environment (the nearby well spring water) and, through her secularisation, as an image for a wider community of all faiths and none.