Continuing my blogging theme of Abbeys and cathedrals…
When visiting a cathedral, it’s important to look up. Quite often a cathedral will have mirrors on trolleys you can use to save craning your neck. Why? Because the roofs are amazing and my favourite looking up place is Ely.
Ely is a city in East Anglia and is also known as the Isle of Ely (as in eels) because once upon a time, it was an island. When the marshes were drained in the 1600s, Ely ceased to be an isle, but it remains a small, prominent city on the skyline with the Cathedral at its heart – ‘Ship of the Fens’.
The cathedral represents the full spectrum of 600 years of architecture, from the Norman Romanesque, through the decorative Gothic, the Perpendicular style and the Renaissance.
St. Etheldreda (also known as Audrey) married a few times. However, she vowed to stay a virgin and eventually ran away to Ely to avoid her last husband (marrying was all about politics, not love). The abbey she founded in 672 was one of the richest after Glastonbury. But two hundred years later, like many, it was raided by the Danes. From 1083 onwards, the current church was built where once stood the monastery. This building on top of old churches is very common with layers of foundations on top of one of another.
In 1322 the crossing tower (where the nave and transept cross) collapsed bringing down the stonework. In its place was constructed not a square tower, but an octagonal wooden one, called a lantern because it lets in so much light. Rather than a dome, which was too Gothic, or a stone vault, which wouldn’t be able to reach across the open space, William Hurley, the King’s carpenter, created a frame of eight oak posts, each one 63ft high, supporting a complex of struts. The wood is painted to look like stone. Completed in 1334, weighing 400 tons, it is considered an amazing feat of Medieval engineering. It’s just amazing to stand underneath.
Sadly, one transept collapsed in the 15th century leaving the cathedral lopsided. The roof is painted with scenes from Old and New Testament, but this isn’t from Medieval times, but Victorian. However, it’s unusual as most Cathedral ceilings are adorned with bosses and vaulting.
Cathedral since 1109
Max Height 65.5m
External length 163.7m
Number of bells 0