Monday, February 23, 2015

The Most Wonderful, Most Stunning, Most Splendid, Most Bestest Cathedral that You’ve Never Heard Of!

This picture is in honor of all the snow we've had this week!

That would be Ely Cathedral!

Ely is a small market town in Cambridgeshire, on a small rise in the fens of East Anglia.

St. Etheldreda founded an abbey there in AD 673.  The abbey was destroyed in 870 by Danish marauders, but was rebuilt by Ethelwold, the Bishop of Winchester, in 970.

Construction of the cathedral began in 1083 by the first Norman Bishop of Ely, Simon.  The history of its ongoing construction is too vast to be chronicled here.  Most dramatically, however, on the night of February 12-13, 1322, the original central tower built over the crossing collapsed, causing significant damage but causing no casualties since it happened at night.  In its place, Alan of Walsingham designed and built an octagon lantern to replace the fallen tower that soars above the crossing like a bejeweled diadem.  It has been described as one of the most singular achievements of architectural genius found in cathedrals throughout the UK. 

Along with the Lantern, construction on other aspects of the cathedral were ongoing throughout the medieval period.  Notably, the chantry chapels were added by wealthy patrons whose bequests covered the cost of having a priest regularly say mass on behalf of their souls, as well as creating beautiful chapels around their tombs in which these masses were said.

Building projects continued until under orders of Henry VIII the abbey was dissolved in 1539.  The architect George Gilbert Scott oversaw a massive restoration project from 1845-1870.  Ely Cathedral continues as the Bishop’s Seat for the Diocese of Ely in the Church of England.

My all-time favorite day out is to take the train from Cambridge to Ely (a fifteen minute ride maybe). Walk from the train station to the wonderfully named River Ouse (think Ooze), where there is a small marina and canal boats and pubs and restaurants and parks and helpful signs telling one more than one ever wanted to know about eels.  From there it is a short walk past tidy houses and medieval facades to the Cathedral Square.  At one end is a house where Oliver Cromwell lived.  Ely Cathedral escaped the depredations that many other Church of England cathedrals suffered during the English Civil Wars and Cromwell’s Protectorship, probably because of his association with the town.  After a tour of the cathedral (I’ve been on a lot and each one has been worth it!), it’s time to seek out the real reason for coming to Ely ;-) – a trip to the Almonry Tea House to have either tea and scones or, even better, brambleberry and apple pie with ice cream, all whilst sitting outside in a lovely garden in the shadow of the cathedral and its Lady Chapel.  A walk past the abbey ruins and the bishop’s residence on the way back to the train station just about undoes me every time because of the beauty unfurled with every step.  Or maybe that’s just the effect that brambleberry apple pie has on my brain.


Here are some pictures.  They really can’t do the place justice.  You’ve got to go there and experience it all in person.  Pie included.

Ely Cathedral has been called 'The Ship of the Fens'

The cathedral sits in the middle of the small market town of Ely
Ely Cathedral was one of the largest buildings north of the Alps when it was built.
It's the fourth longest cathedral in the UK.  It just goes on and on.
One approaches the western doors from Cathedral Square.
The Cromwells lived nearby.
Once you enter the Great Western Doors, and pass under the tower and into the nave,
you enter a space designed to reflect the Trinity-centered world of the Bible.  All that's missing here
is the riot of color from the paintings and decorations of the medieval church, all removed after
the English reformations.
The ceiling above the nave is Victorian
but is exquisite nonetheless.
The view from the crossing under the Lantern into the choir to the high altar.
With the choir to your back, looking past the crossing with the Lantern above down the nave
Ely Cathedral's glorious Lantern
A chantry chapel off to one side.
St. Etheldreda, whose abbey got things going 1300+ years ago.
There's a lot more, but I think I'm overwhelmed by it all and need something to help me recover.
So I think I'll just amble over through the gardens to one of my favorite tea houses anywhere.
There it is, The Almonry.  I'd like a spot of tea, please.
A scone with clotted cream and jam, and maybe a flapjack...
Or maybe a piece of brambleberry apple pie?
I think I'll be ok now.