Ely Cathedral: Checking off the Bucket List

Our antique etching of Ely Cathedral.

Our antique etching of Ely Cathedral.

We’ve had a framed historic etching of Ely Cathedral in our home since we were first married. Our etching shows the Norman building in Ely, England, before disaster struck in 1440. It’s been a goal of ours to visit the cathedral in person and in October, we finally made it there on a break during our October antique shopping trip in the UK.

The Galilee Porch and main entrance. The missing northwest transept would have matched the southwest transept.

The Galilee Porch and main entrance. The missing northwest transept would have matched the southwest transept.

We took the train to Peterborough, where we picked up our rental car and headed southeast to the town of Ely. As we approached, the Cathedral rose over the flat fens. Several rivers feed the mostly agricultural area. In fact, Ely is built on the remains of a clay-mud island. Parking in the center of town (yay for car parks!), we trekked up High Street to the Cathedral. Beautiful grounds and parklands surround the medieval buildings. It did not disappoint.

We approached the Cathedral from the north.

We approached the Cathedral from the north.

The first monastery at Ely was founded in 673 by Etheldreda, a Saxon Princess. The Vikings destroyed the monastery in 870 and the Benedictines re-founded the monastery in 970. Work began on the present building in 1080. The monastery became a Cathedral in 1109. It took one hundred years to build and other bits were added through the years. Then, the disaster!

In 1322, the Norman central tower collapsed. It was replaced with an incredible engineered timbered structure. Massive trees were used to form supports for the roof. Then, in 1440 the northwest transept, which had been structurally failing because of the land, collapsed and was removed.

The Octagon and lantern built after the center tower collapsed.

The Octagon and lantern built after the center tower collapsed.

The Cathedral was attacked by more than building defects. Henry VIII closed the monastery in 1539 and in 1541, all the windows were smashed and sculptures removed or defaced. Oliver Cromwell forced the closure of the Cathedral in 1653 and it remained closed until 1670. In 1699, part of the north transept collapsed.

From the choir stalls and carved seats (misericords), which date from the 14th century.

From the choir stalls and carved seats (misericords), which date from the 14th century.

Today, the Cathedral is a mix of styles from over 800 years. It is a beautiful holy place. A true blessing to those that visit it.

The east window tells the story of Jesus' life, death and resurrection.

The east window tells the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

Lastly, we did manage to visit the Waterside Antiques Centre at the Wharf of the Great Ouse River and had a nice afternoon tea next door at Peacocks Tea Room.

Peacocks Tea Room serves inside or outside in the garden.

Peacocks Tea Room serves inside or outside in the garden.

Interesting note: Ely is probably named so because of the centuries of their massive eel fishing industry. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to try eel while we were there! We also missed the May Eel Festival. Darn.

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