Friday, 28 October 2011

Ely Cathedral

On a clear day when  was a child it was what you always looked for on the horizon; Ely Cathedral, the "ship of the fens", sailing serenely above the flat fenscape. 

The Cathedral was founded in 673 AD by St Etheldreda, it was sacked by the Danes in 870 and then reconsecrated in 970. By the way, if you think Etheldreda had an unusual name then you've never met her sister, Sexburga. I kid you not!

Part of the beauty of Ely is that it rises so effortlessly above the rooftops without any competition from modern structures. Also the buildings in its immediate vicinity are also of some antiquity and interesting in themselves. What on earth the medieval cottage dwellers thought about this huge building rising up in the midst of their tiny town I can not imagine.

But rise it did, building and rebuilding went on over the centuries; some craftsmen must have worked on it all their lives. The nave dates from the Norman period. It is extremely long, high and narrow with rows of identical columns and arches. 

A table with a mirrored top allows you to observe the painted ceiling without getting a stiff neck!

If you put the camera on top of this mirrored table you can get an interesting picture like the one above. Don't tell them I told you to do it!

In 1322 the Norman crossing-tower collapsed and had to be rebuilt. The largely wooden, octagonal structure was designed by Alan de Walsingham and is the chief glory of the building today.

To stand there and gaze upward to the superb lantern with the choir singing, even if they were only practising, has brought a tear to the eye of at least one big man not usually given to such emotion.

Back down to earth for an elaborately carved Norman Doorway, with a detail on the right showing the intricacy of the work.

The Lady Chapel dates from the 14th century and feels amazingly light and airy, though when it was built it had stained glass in the windows and the stonework was richly painted so its appearance would have been much different.

Two ladies were engaged in arranging flowers to decorate various parts of the building. They seemed reluctant to be photographed but were happy for me to snap their handiwork.

This memorial, one of many, caught my eye. It's thought to represent St Hugh of Lincoln, who was said to be a devout but humorous man who could become very upset at any injustice. He once refused to take up a post till the king had rehoused poor people who had lost their homes in order that a monastery could be built. At his feet is his pet goose, though sadly both St Hugh and the bird have been decapitated.

Outside a woman was feeding the ducks I'm sure St Hugh would have been delighted! And so back to the rainy streets of the market town.

Take care.


  1. Driving towards Ely, and first seeing the cathedral stretching up above the fens has always been an inspiring moment. Ely is one of these little towns that should be left alone and not turned into the nightmarish 'everywhere' town that so many of them have become.

    btw. do you still have to pay to enter? We haven't been to visit since we left the South East ten years ago.

  2. Absolutely beautiful!!! I love the mirror picture and the ceiling mural.

  3. You have the most amazing history surrounding you - I almost get jealous. Here is the colonies, the only thing I'd ever find dating to the 7th century might be an arrowhead. I got excited yesterday when I photographed a barn dating to 1852 - positively postmodern by your standards.

  4. I love English Cathedrals! I'm re- visiting Exeter tomorrow but have never been to Ely, it's on my list tho! I love your photographs and the thought of Hugh and his pet goose. Jane x

  5. Wonderful tour, John. I, too, am in awe of your antiquities. If we had them, I'm not at all sure we would have preserved them the way you have. Of the woman feeding ducks, is she homeless? All of the material piled onto the bicycle reminds of homeless people with all of their belongings piled into shopping carts. Perhaps St. Hugh should intervene for her. Jim

  6. another beautiful set of photos--hope I make it back someday to see these wonderful places

  7. How amazing to think that this cathedal had it's beginnings so long ago! I'm sure it's changed in appearance many times over the years and here it is today in all it's glory. Such wonderfully detailed pictures you've shown us, brilliant! Love the mirrored table, what a very considerate idea and 'Sexburger'.... really!! that's too funny!!

  8. a very interesting post, I've heard of Ely and its on my list of places to visit one day, but I've never seen the inside of the cathedral before.

  9. What a stunning place! And your photos, especially the mirrored ones, are lovely. I'm amazed at how old that cathedral is. The craftsmanship of it is breathtaking.

  10. What a wonderful landmark - and the interior architecture is quite stunning. I love your pic of the lady feeding the birds.

  11. Amazing the cathedrals were built with so much care...yet the peasants were left with so little. Ah, but the cathedrals certainly are majestic and wonderful to take photos of.

  12. Thanks for taking the trouble to comment. Yes, you certainly have to pay to enter - £6.50, and extra if you want to see the tower and the stained glass museum. However you get a free pass for the next year for your £6.50, so I may visit again. You won't find much from the 7th century at Ely either; the Danes didn't muck about when they set out to destroy something! The oldest parts of the building today date from around 1170. Quite modern then!

  13. It's much more graceful inside than it looks from the outside. Another place I need to visit. My next summer's holiday is increasingly likely to be in Cambridgeshire!

  14. I always look for Ely cathedral when I'm on my way down to East Anglia. You've taken some spectacular interior photographs especially the one of the lantern. I visited the cathedral in the autumn of last year and it was both beautiful and interesting but my abiding memory was of the intense cold inside the building!


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