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Ely in the morning – a fab day out.

October 7, 2013
Ely Cathedral, Cambridge (c) Jane Risdon 2013

Ely Cathedral, Cambridge (c) Jane Risdon 2013

Ely Cathedral (c) Jane Risdon 2013

Ely Cathedral (c) Jane Risdon 2013

At the beginning of September I was lucky enough to have a wonderful treat.  I was given a really special weekend – as you may already know I had a fab time at Prom in the Park (see my previous blog), and on the other day I was taken to see Ely Cathedral in Cambridge.  I was so excited.  I had heard too much about it I wanted to see it for myself and on that lovely sunny Sunday we set off to visit the cathedral and the little city of Ely.  Neither the little city nor the cathedral disappointed.

A little history about the Cathedral:

There has been a church on this site since AD 673, when St. Ethelreda founded her monastery,.  She was a Saxon princess, the daughter of the King of East Anglia.  She married twice, for political reasons, and eventually followed her wish to become a nun and she founded a mixed community for both sexes.

On the way to the Cathedral (c) Jane Risdon 2013

On the way to the Cathedral (c) Jane Risdon 2013

Heading to the Cathedral in Ely (c) Jane Risdon 2013

Heading to the Cathedral in Ely (c) Jane Risdon 2013

Another view of Ely (c) Jane Risdon 2013

Another view of Ely (c) Jane Risdon 2013

View of Ely Cathedral (c) Jane Risdon 2013

View of Ely Cathedral (c) Jane Risdon 2013

The Saxon Church was destroyed by the Danes in 870, restored in 970 as a Benedictine Monastery for men only, and then demolished to make way for the present church, built by the Normans between 1081 and 1189.

The Norman church was built with quite a substantial square central tower as well as the present West Tower, and the ground-plan was symmetrical and quite the thing at the time.  It had two transepts (wings) one on each side of the western entrance.

The overall plan is a huge cross, the head towards the East and Jeruselem.

A porch was added in the 13th century at the west door and a major addition was built at the east end to house St. Ethelreda’s shine.  Apparently crowds of pilgrims came to worship there.     

Inside the Cathedral (c) Jane Risdon 2013

Inside the Cathedral (c) Jane Risdon 2013

After the service on the Sunday of our visit (c) Jane Risdon 2013

After the service on the Sunday of our visit (c) Jane Risdon 2013

On the Sunday we visited there was a large congregation worshipping and after they had finished their service there were quite a number of tourists looking around the church.

In the 14th century the central tower fell down in an earthquake and destabilized the whole building. It took them a while to sort out how to restore the area and what they achieved has become known as one of the ‘Wonders of the Medieval World’.  We had a wonderful tour guide who explained all the ins and outs but suffice to say that Cambridge university ran several computer programmes for three months and could not come up with an explanation as to how the Octagon and Lantern were achieved such was the level of engineering expertise and talent at that time.        

Ceiling in one of the Chapels (c) Jane Risdon 2013

Ceiling in one of the Chapels (c) Jane Risdon 2013

    

Inside the Cathedral (c) Jane Risdon 2013

Inside the Cathedral (c) Jane Risdon 2013

The Octagon and Lantern where we climbed to via a spiral staircase enclosed and narrow. (c) Jane Risdon 2013

The Octagon and Lantern where we climbed to via a spiral staircase enclosed and narrow. (c) Jane Risdon 2013

They replaced the central tower with what is known as The Octagon and Lantern which we toured later in the afternoon.  This involved going up a set of spiral stairs leading to the roof, the passage getting narrower and narrower and the steps steeper and steeper as we climbed.  I lost count of the number of stairs and had anyone been larger than we were they would never have made the climb as we also had to crawl through a narrow door which was not very high. We had a step up to it and an immediate step down on the other side.  claustrophobics would never have made it and neither would those scared of heights.  I am not too keen on heights but wasn’t going to miss this for anything.

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One of the many tombs inside the Cathedral (c) Jane Risdon 2013

Roof of Ely Cathedral, Octagon ad Lantern area (c) Jane Risdon 2013

Roof of Ely Cathedral, Octagon ad Lantern area (c) Jane Risdon 2013

We had to walk across the roof to get to the inside of the Octagon and Lantern which are made only of wood – 1,000 year old oak, at least 300 years old when felled.  We looked down on the church below from these giddy heights as the sides of the Lantern opened up.  From the ground these look like painted panels but in actual fact they each open and close; the paintings are amazing.  Apparently the artists used to paint them were lowered over the sides of the Lantern with just a rope around their waists and they painted swinging back and forth.

The views from the roof were amazing, across the countryside, and when we got inside the Octagon and looked down on the church below it was a bit of a wobbly moment for me.

In the 15th century the West Tower was heightened with the addition  of the Octagonal top, however, its extra weight caused problems and the North West Transept had to be taken down later.  The Reformation saw the closure of the monastery and structural rescue work was needed on the North Transept, the extreme east end and the Lantern in the 18th century.  In the 19th century the Victorians set about restoration and included the magnificent painted Nave ceiling.

When this tree was felled it was already 300 years old. This is in the roof above the Lantern in the Octagon. (c) Jane Risdon 2013

When this tree was felled it was already 300 years old. This is in the roof above the Lantern in the Octagon. (c) Jane Risdon 2013

Stained glass window which I stood next too up in the roof. (c) Jane Risdon 2013

Stained glass window which I stood next too up in the roof. (c) Jane Risdon 2013

We didn’t manage to visit it but there is a Stained Glass Museum. This window was in the roof above the Octagon.

There are over 100 panels on show with works by William Morris and John Piper apparently.  Another time perhaps.

The oak trees were amazing to touch, they were huge and weighed tons and you had to wonder how they got them into place in the roof and how they don’t come crashing down. 

On the wooden panels of the Octagon there are beautiful paintings and each panel opens so you can look down on the congregation.  American bomber crews had scrawled their names and dates of their visits on these and there is also graffiti from earlier years.  We were told not to bring pens and pencils into the roof space. 

As I said it was  very high in the top of the Octagon and everyone below looked tiny.  We could see the flags hanging and also the windows up really close, as well as all the dove joints where the carpenters had fixed each tree to another.  We could even see the marks of their tools.

We were level with the flags and banners hanging high above the congregation (c) Jane Risdon 2013

We were level with the flags and banners hanging high above the congregation (c) Jane Risdon 2013

View across the Octagon from the open panel where I was standing  so I could take this shot and it shows one of the stained glass windows just below it.    

Painted panels in the octagon (c) Jane Risdon 2013

Painted panels in the octagon (c) Jane Risdon 2013

Ceiling of the Cathedral (c) Jane Risdon 2013

Ceiling of the Cathedral (c) Jane Risdon 2013

The ceiling of the Nave is just amazing, I managed to take this shot from up in the Octagon. This is actually Victorian and the work of two artists; Henry Styleman le Strange who pained the first six panels (from the West end) and Thomas Gambier Parry who painted the last six.

The Lady Chapel is a large open and spacious light filled area.  It is in honour of The Virgin Mary and were added to lots of churches in the 13th and 14th centuries.  This one is unusual in that is it by far the largest attached to any British Cathedral, the foundations being laid in 1321, just before the collapse of the central tower though work continued in spite of the disaster.  We were told the cathedral foundations are only about five feet deep.  Building of  The Lady Chapel was overseen by John of Wisbech and was completed in 1349.  It was highly coloured and filled with the light from stained glass windows and highly coloured statues.  All of which was destroyed in the 16th century by Henry V111 during the Reformation. 

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The Lady Chapel with some of the original paint still showing. (c) Jane Risdon 2013

Can you spot the person looking out of one of the open panels opposite mine?

Painted panels where the American Bomber Crews put their names on the rear. (c) Jane Risdon 2013

Painted panels where the American Bomber Crews put their names on the rear. (c) Jane Risdon 2013

                                                                                        Anyway, I had better stop posting photos of the Cathedral before I run out of space. 

Ely is a lovely little city, the smallest in Britain I think.  We had a lovely breakfast at one of those early morning breakfast places where you can get a fry-up or a sandwich/baguette with whatever you want added.  We walked a lot and had a good look round and enjoyed afternoon tea (no cakes) as we were being good in an old speciality tea rooms. They had over one hundred and fifty tea varieties to pick from and they could blend them to taste.

 We just had to go into a small Real Ale and Cider room (cannot call it a bar as it was like a sitting room), with locally sourced and homemade cider and ale and the most gorgeous cheeses.  The cider was rather strong!   

I do hope you have enjoyed this brief tour around Ely Cathedral and photos of some of the houses locally.  By the time we had done the Guided Tour into the roof and stopped off to sample the local Cider and Cheese it was late and a bit too gloomy for more photo taking.  I hope I go back again soon as I loved it and I had the best day, with the best people and the best weather for it  too.

                                                                                    All Photographs (c) Jane Risdon 2013 and All rights Reserved – enjoy.

Outside the Cathedral (c) Jane Risdon 2013

Outside the Cathedral (c) Jane Risdon 2013

     

On the way back from the Cathedral (c) Jane Risdon 2013

house just outside the Cathedral grounds (c) Jane Risdon 2013

House just outside the Cathedral grounds (c) Jane Risdon 2013

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31 Comments
  1. Enjoyed this trip down memory lane – I used to live relatively near Ely and occasionally my parents would take us for a day trip there. I would frequently travel by train from King’s Lynn to London and back (in the days of British Rail) and would often find that the train stopped at Ely, to go no further. Many hours spent cuddling up to piles of mail bags on Ely Station platform waiting for a connecting train and I can assert that Ely Station is the coldest place on earth!

    Liked by 1 person

    • LOL oh British Rail, such are the memories. I am glad this piece took you back to happy times, even if a cold time. Mail bags, wonder what happened to them? Don’t suppose prisoners sew them any more. 🙂

      Like

  2. armenpogharian permalink

    I was surprised to hear about an earthquake causing damage in the UK. Although I guess I shouldn’t be. We had one down in Virginia that I felt up here in Rochester (~400 miles). It was strong enough to close the Washington monument. Anyway, nice post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes there are quakes in the UK and nothing like a biggie. My husband and I were on the tale end of the San Francisco one in 1991 and we were hit with the Los Angeles one in 1994 big time. Not an experience I ever want to repeat. Also been in a tornado in Indiana. LOL

      Like

  3. Reblogged this on evelynralph and commented:
    Lots of fascinating information about our old churches and history fir people who live too far away to visit or those who cannot walk much.
    Thank you Jane.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My pleasure Evelyn thanks so much for the reblog and for sharing. Really appreciate it. So pleased you enjoyed it. Plenty of other posts re some places you might find of interest too. 🙂

      Like

  4. I could Not do any of this myself, so thank you for all the information and great photographs. A pleasure , as always. Bless.
    Evelyn.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah Evelyn my pleasure, I do hope you enjoyed it. I have also done Canterbury Cathedral, and some other lovely interesting places you might enjoy, take a wander around the blog. Plenty to see and read about as well as my crime writing. 🙂

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  5. You’ve been a busy girl with your camera haven’t you? Nice pictures Jane.

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    • Ah thanks Laurie, I take lots of photos of animals, scenery and buildings and try my best. Kind of you to comment. Appreciated. Hope you are better. 🙂

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      • You’re welcome Jane. They were great photos. Feeling better, besides the main problems they found Para-influenza 3 hiding in my lung. It never rains but it pours. 😦

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    • Hoping all is well with you too. I have been busy with all sorts but I have popped in and read your recent post so will comment asap I get my head in gear. Enjoyed it no end…I love reading the comments too. Really interesting stuff. 🙂

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      • Thanks so much Jane, there’s always something to look at here. make sure you engage the clutch before putting head in gear. 🙂

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  6. My Arrow words book constantly says “City with Cathedral” and has three letters. A while ago I figured it was Ely, but this shows the cathedral to be a wonderful piece of architecture.

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    • Oh it is wonderful…worth a visit. I love old building and villages and countryside so photograph like crazy wherever I go and of course, for inspiration for writing. I add a few of these trips to my blog now and again or a little tale of this or that….just to keep people interested as reading my stories might not always appeal – though I live in hope they will be read and commented upon. Appreciate your visit again, and loved your story and will look out for more. Trolley/cart…ah when lived in the USA this nearly caused an ‘incident’ in a parking lot in LA. LOL

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      • Haha 🙂

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        • My knees nearly gave up the ghost going up the spiral staircases to the roof…still creaking and complaining.

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          • I bet the view was stunning though

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            • It was at lest 20 miles as warm and sunny. and looking at the 1,300 year old timbers and seeing the carpenters marks was so awesome. The way they did the lantern and octagon which had Univ of Cambridge computers stumped after 3 months of trying to work out how it was done, blew my mind. Took loads of photos and I have so many of other places which I will post asap get time away from my books.

              Like

  7. supernova1c permalink

    Hi there Jane hope you are doing OK, very good post which I enjoyed tremendously! Love the Cathedral and esp. the stained glass windows. Such a history, having it’s origin in A.D. 673, it always captivates my imagination.
    Have a nice week Jane, regards James 🙂

    PS Have a glass of cider for me 😉

    Like

    • Cheers indeed. James lovely to hear from you. I am still dipping in and out of your wonderful blog. So much to read and enjoy so takes me a while to digest it all. Thanks for popping in here again, appreciated. Keep safe and happy 🙂

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  8. Hello Jane,
    I loved the tour of Ely! What a great day you had. It sounds like it was tricky getting up those stairs, but you got some wonderful photos. Thank you for posting them. I enjoyed this so much.
    Jeanice Deering

    Like

    • I am so happy your enjoyed the photos Jeanice, I aim to please lol. It was a fab day and I am so lucky to have such wonderful relations who enjoy dragging me along on their jaunts. How are yu and what are you up to at the present time? Enjoy your week. 🙂

      Like

  9. Looks like a lovely place for a visit. I wasn’t very far this summer (I stayed with friends in Cambridge) but we only saw the cathedral from a distance and never made it to Ely. (Suzanne)

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    • Suzanne, it is a lovely place to visit, so interesting and there is so much to see. The city was interesting and fun to wander around. ~Thanks for commenting. Appreciated.

      Like

  10. Carol Matthews permalink

    Such a pleasure to read and look at, thank you!

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  11. Jane – What absolutely lovely ‘photos! And thanks for sharing a bit of the history of the place, too. Really interesting. Glad you had such a lovely treat, and glad you shared with us.

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    • I am happy you enjoyed the photos and the history Margot, it was such a wonderful day out. I love history and old buildings, and churches and, well, anything old really. Luckily it runs in the family along with a love of taking photos and the countryside too…so we all get to chat about it all, share photos and wander around such interesting places often together and if not, then we share what we have discovered. It is such fun.

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  12. Love it. So glad you had a great day! Beautiful pictures, too. If Cathedrals make you travel… well, I’ll show you round Lincoln Cathedral any day you want. We got some pretty spectacular stained glass windows too!

    Thank you again for sharing. Have been to Cambridge many time but never taken in the Cathedral. Must do so next time!

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    • Oh thanks Nicky. I have been round it with the same relatives who took me to Ely. Sadly my camera decided not to store the photos I took which devastated me. I also went to St. Albans and the same happened (same weekend) so all I had when I got home was what I had taken prior to going. So fed-up. Beautiful places, all of them. It would have been fun to go round with you. My two companions were hysterical and such fun to be with however, so I didn’t miss out.

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Please leave a reply and comment - your input is really appreciated. Thanks, Jane

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