One of my favourite Cathedrals in England is definitely Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire. I have visited this Cathedral a couple of times now and every time I have been amazed at the beauty and architecture of this Cathedral. The Cathedral is filled with many different architectural styles, all blending together to make a striking whole. History abounds around every corner, and the beauty created by artists in wood, stone and glass is everywhere.
Ely Cathedral is the only UK building to be listed as one of the “Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages”. Visible for miles around, the Cathedral is often referred to as “The Ship of the Fens”.
The city of Ely may be small in comparison to other cities but its Cathedral is a magnificent structure with a history dating back over 1300 years. Despite its remoteness, Ely has an association with well known Kings & Saints who have shaped our history.
The near-legendary founder of this Cathedral was Etheldreda, the wife of a Northumbrian king who established a monastery on the spot in 673 A.D. Etheldreda’s monastery flourished for 200 years until it was destroyed by the Danes. It was re-founded as a Benedictine community in 970.
The present structure dates from 1081 and is a remarkable example of both Romanesque and Norman architecture. It was during the early part of the 12th Century the existing monastic church achieved Cathedral status and since that time there have been various additions, changes and restorations throughout the centuries.
The plan of the building is cruciform or cross-shaped, with an additional transept at the western end. This huge building has massive oil warmers to keep the Cathedral heated during winter. But because the Cathedral is so huge it was only slightly warmer than outside and we kept our gloves and jackets on while exploring.
At certain times of the day there are free tours of the Cathedral that is a must if you want to learn a lot about its rich history and architecture.
The nave is over 75 m long and is actually the third longest in the UK, and the same length as Ely High Street. Walking down this nave my eyes were turned upwards towards it’s spectacular roof of painted panels which depict The Jesse Tree, and move from Creation to Revelation. This story can be seen as you walk from the West End up to the Crossing, and believe me by the time we reached the crossing my neck was hurting.
The Nave’s imposing Gothic columns lead you from the main West Door to another feature unique to this Cathedral and definitely my favourite part of the Cathedral. This octagonal shaped tower, known as the ‘LanternTower’ which is 23 m wide and 52 m high is not only unique but also magnificent. This LanternTower is a wonder of the mediaeval world and globally recognised as a masterpiece of engineering. The masterful coloured panels, designed by George Gilbert Scott, open out creating a spectacular view as you look up into this tower. Although it is supported on eight massive masonry piers, the lantern itself is constructed from oak timbers
The angels painted below the windows are purely Victorian inventions, a product of the restoration under Thomas Gambier Parry in 1874. I think they are a fabulous addition to this beautiful Cathedral.
Ely is one of the few remaining Cathedrals to have resident choristers. The boys’ choir has been part of the English Choral tradition since the mid-16th century and can be traced back considerably further to the time of King Canute. Today the world famous choir consists of some 22 boy choristers and six adult lay clerks, and can be heard most evenings at Choral Evensong as well as on Sundays and Feast Days.
In 1321 work began on a massive (100′ long by 46′ wide) free-standing Lady Chapel the largest of its kind in the UK. It is linked to the north transept and the north aisle of the chancel by covered walkways. I am always struck not only by its size but by the extraordinary sense of light and vastness of this magnificent space. This beauty is tempered by the destructiveness of the Reformation, as many of the carved figures in the walls are either beheaded or defaced.
You can just imagine how magnificent it must have looked in its prime!