|Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity|
West front (main entrance) of Ely Cathedral
|Denomination||Church of England|
|Number of towers||2|
|Tower height||66m (west tower), 52m (lantern)|
|Diocese||Ely (since 1109)|
|Canon(s)||David Pritchard, Canon Pastor
Alan Hargrave, Canon Missioner
|Director of music||Paul Trepte|
Ely Cathedral, formally the Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Ely, is the principal church of the Diocese of Ely, in Cambridgeshire, England, and is the seat of the Bishop of Ely and a suffragan bishop, the Bishop of Huntingdon. It is known locally as "the ship of the Fens", because of its prominent position above the surrounding flat landscape.
- 1 Anglo-Saxon abbey
- 2 Present day church
- 3 Religious community
- 4 Clergy
- 5 Burials
- 6 Music
- 7 Stained Glass Museum
- 8 In popular culture
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 Further reading
- 12 External links
Ely Abbey was founded in 672, by Æthelthryth (St Etheldreda), daughter of the East Anglian King Anna. It was a mixed community of men and women. Later accounts suggest her three successor abbesses were also members of the East Anglian Royal family. In later centuries the depredations of Viking raids may have resulted in its destruction, or at least loss of all records. It is possible that some monks provided a continuity through to its refoundation in 970, under a Benedictine rule. The precise siting of Æthelthryth's original monastery is not known. The presence of her relics, bolstered by the growing body of literature on her life and miracles, was a major driving force in the success of the refounded abbey. The church building of 970 was within or near the nave of the present building, and was progressively demolished from 1102 with construction of the Norman church.
Present day church
The cathedral is built from stone quarried from Barnack in Northamptonshire (bought from Peterborough Abbey, whose lands included the quarries, for 8000 eels a year), with decorative elements carved from Purbeck Marble and local clunch. The plan of the building is cruciform (cross-shaped), with an additional transept at the western end. The total length is 537 feet (163.7 m), and the nave at over 75 m long (250 ft) remains one of the longest in Britain. The west tower is 66m high (215 ft). The unique Octagon 'Lantern Tower' is 23 m (74 ft) wide and is 52 m (170 ft) high. Internally, from the floor to the central roof boss the lantern is 43 m (142 ft) high.
Norman abbey church
Having a pre-Norman history spanning 400 years and a re-foundation in 970, Ely over the course of the next hundred years had become one of England's most successful Benedictine abbeys, with lands exceeded only by Glastonbury, a famous saint, treasures, library and book production of the highest order. However the imposition of Norman rule was particularly problematic at Ely. Newly arrived Normans such as Picot of Cambridge were taking possession of abbey lands, there was appropriation of daughter monasteries such as Eynesbury by French monks, and interference by the Bishop of Lincoln was undermining its status. All this was exacerbated when, in 1071, Ely became a focus of English resistance, through such people as Hereward the Wake, culminating in the Siege of Ely, for which the abbey suffered substantial fines.
Under the Normans almost every English cathedral and major abbey was rebuilt from the 1070s onwards, If Ely was to maintain its status then it had to initiate its own building work, and the task fell to Abbot Simeon. He was the brother of Walkelin, the then Bishop of Winchester, and had himself been Prior at Winchester when the rebuilding began there in 1079. In 1083, a year after Simeon's appointment as abbot of Ely, and when he was 90 years old, building work began. The years since the conquest had been turbulent for the Abbey, but the unlikely person of an aged Norman outsider effectively took the parts of the Ely monks, reversed the decline in the abbey's fortunes, and found the resources, administrative capacity, identity and purpose to begin a mighty new building.
The design had many similarities to Winchester, a cruciform plan with central crossing tower, aisled transepts, a three storey elevation and a semi-circular apse at the east end. It was one of the largest buildings under construction north of the Alps at the time. The first phase of construction took in the eastern arm of the church, and the north and south transepts. However a significant break in the way the masonry is laid indicates that, with the transepts still unfinished, there was an unplanned halt to construction that lasted several years. It would appear that when Abbott Simeon died in 1193, an extended interregnum caused all work to cease. The administration of Ranulf Flambard may have been to blame. He illegally kept various posts unfilled, including that of Abbot of Ely, so he could appropriate the income. In 1099 he got himself appointed Bishop of Durham, in 1100 Abbot Richard was appointed to Ely and building work resumed. It is Abbot Richard who asserted Ely's independence from the Diocese of Lincoln, and pressed for it to be made a diocese in its own right, with the Abbey Church as its Cathedral. Although Abbot Richard died in 1107, his successor Hervey le Breton was able to achieve this and become the first Bishop of Ely in 1109. This period at the start of the 12th century was when Ely re-affirmed its link with its Anglo-Saxon past. The struggle for independence coincided with the period when resumption of building work required the removal of the shrines from the old building and the translation of the relics into the new church. This appears to have allowed, in the midst of a Norman-French hierarchy, an unexpectedly enthusiastic development of the cult of these pre-Norman saints and benefactors.
The Norman east end and the whole of the central area of the crossing are now entirely gone, but the architecture of the transepts survives in a virtually complete state, to give a good impression of how it would have looked. Massive walls pierced by Romanesque arches would have formed aisles running around all sides of the choir and transepts. Three tiers of archways rise from the arcaded aisles. Galleries with walkways could be used for liturgical processions, and above that is the Clerestory with a passage within the width of the wall.
Construction of the nave was underway from around 1115, and roof timbers dating to 1120 suggest that at least the eastern portion of the nave roof was in place by then. The great length of the nave required that it was tackled in phases and after completing four bays, sufficient to securely buttress the crossing tower and transepts, there was a planned pause in construction. By 1140 the nave had been completed together with the western transepts and west tower up to triforium level, in the fairly plain early Romanesque style of the earlier work. Another pause now occurred, for over 30 years, and when it resumed, the new mason found ways to integrate the earlier architectural elements with the new ideas and richer decorations of early Gothic.
The West Tower
The half-built west tower and upper parts of the two western transepts were completed under Bishop Geoffrey Ridel (1174–89), to create an exuberant west front, richly decorated with intersecting arches and complex mouldings. The new architectural details were used systematically to the higher storeys of the tower and transepts. Rows of trefoil heads and use of pointed instead of semicircular arches, results is a west front with a high level of orderly uniformity. Originally the west front had transepts running symmetrically either side of the west tower. Stonework details on the tower show that an octagonal tower was part of the original design, although the current western octagonal tower was installed in 1400. Numerous attempts to were made, during all phases of its construction to halt or correct problems of subsidence from soft ground at the western end of the cathedral. In 1405-7, to cope with the extra weight from the octagonal the tower, four new arches were added at the crossing to strengthen the tower. The extra weight of these works may have added to the problem, as at the end of the fifteenth century the north-west transept collapsed. A great sloping mass of masonry was built to buttress the remaining walls, which remain in their broken-off state on the north side of the tower.
The Galilee porch is now the principal entrance into the Cathedral for visitors. Its original liturgical functions are unclear, but its location at the west end meant it may have been used as a chapel for penitents, a place where liturgical processions could gather, or somewhere the monks could hold business meetings with women, who were not permitted into the abbey. It also has a structural role in buttressing the west tower. The walls stretch over two storeys, but the upper storey now has no roof, it having been removed early in the nineteenth century. Its construction dating is also uncertain. Records suggest it was initiated by Bishop Eustace (1197–1215), and it is a notable example of Early English Gothic style. But there are doubts about just how early, especially as Eustace had taken refuge in France in 1208, and had no access to his funds for the next 3 years. George Gilbert Scott argued that details of its decoration, particularly the 'syncopated arches' and the use of Purbeck marble shafts, bear comparison with St Hugh's Choir, Lincoln Cathedral, and the west porch at St Albans, which both predate Eustace, whereas the foliage carvings and other details offer a date after 1220, suggesting it could be a project taken up, or re-worked by Bishop Northwold.
Presbytery and East end
The first major reworking of an element of the Norman building was undertaken by Bishop Northwold (bishop 1229–54). The eastern arm had been only four bays, running from the choir (then located at the crossing itself) to the high altar and the shrine to Etheldreda. In 1234 Bishop Northwold began an eastward addition of six further bays, which were built over 17 years, in a richly ornamented style with extensive use of Purbeck marble pillars and foliage carvings. It was built using the same bay dimensions, wall thicknesses and elevations as the Norman parts of the nave, but with an Early English Gothic style that makes it 'the most refined and richly decorated English building of its period'. St Etheldreda’s remains were translated to a new shrine immediately east of the high altar within the new structure, and on completion of these works in 1252 the cathedral was reconsecrated in the presence of King Henry III and Prince Edward. As well as a greatly expanded presbytery, the new east end had the effect of inflating still further the significance of St Etheldreda's shrine. Surviving fragments of the shrine pedestal suggest its decoration was similar to the interior walls of the Galilee porch. The relics of the saints Wihtburh, Seaxburh (sisters of St Etheldreda) and Eormenhild (daughter of Seaxburh) would also have been accommodated, and the new building provided much more space for pilgrims to visit the shrines, via a door in the North Transept. The presbytery has subsequently been used for the burials and memorials of over 100 individuals connected with the abbey and cathedral.
In 1321, under the sacrist Alan of Walsingham work began on a large free-standing Lady Chapel, linked to the north aisle of the chancel by a covered walkway. The Chapel is 100 feet (30 m) long and 46 feet (14 m) wide, and was built in an exuberant 'Decorated' Gothic style over the course of the next 30 years. Masons and finances were unexpectedly required for the main church from 1322, which must have slowed the progress of the Chapel. The north and south wall each have five bays, comprising large traceried windows separated by pillars each of which has eight substantial niches and canopies which once held statues. Below the window line, and running round three sides of the Chapel is an arcade of richly decorated decorated 'nodding ogees', with Purbeck marble pillars, creating scooped out seating booths. There are three arches per bay plus a grander one for each main pillar, each with a projecting pointed arch covering a subdividing column topped by a statue of a bishop or king. Above each arch is a pair of spandrels containing carved scenes which create a cycle of 93 carved relief sculptures of the life and miracles of the Virgin Mary. The carvings and sculptures would all have been painted. The window glass would all have been brightly coloured with major schemes perhaps of biblical narratives, of which a few small sections have survived. At the reformation, the edict to remove images from the cathedral was carried out very thoroughly by Bishop Goodrich. The larger statues have gone. The relief scenes were built into the wall, so each face or statue was individually hacked off, but leaving many finely carved details, and numerous puzzles as to what the original scenes showed. After the reformation it was redeployed as the Parish Church for the town, a situation which continued up to 1938.
On the night of 12–13 February 1322, possibly as a result of digging foundations for the Lady Chapel, the Norman central crossing tower collapsed. Work on the Lady Chapel was suspended as attention transferred to dealing with this disaster. Instead of being replaced by a new tower on the same ground plan, the crossing was enlarged to an octagon, removing all four of the original tower piers and absorbing the adjoining bays of the nave, chancel and transepts to define an open area far larger than the square base of the original tower. The construction of this unique and distinctive feature was overseen by Alan of Walsingham. The extent of his influence on the design continues to be a matter of debate, as are the reasons such a radical step was taken. Mistrust of the soft ground under the failed tower piers may have been a major factor in moving all the weight of the new tower further out. The large stone octagonal tower, with its eight internal archways, has spectacular timber fan-vaulting, holding up a roof that itself supports the large glazed timber lantern, also octagonal in form, brought about by William Hurley, master carpenter in the royal service.
It is unclear what damage was caused to the Norman chancel by the fall of the tower, but the three remaining bays were reconstructed under Bishop John Hotham (1316-1337) in an ornate Decorated style with flowing tracery. Structural evidence shows that this work was a remodelling rather than a total rebuilding. New choirstalls with carved misericords and canopy work were installed beneath the octagon, in a similar position to their predecessors. Work was resumed on the Lady Chapel, and the two westernmost bays of Northwold’s presbytery were adapted by unroofing the triforia so as to enhance the lighting of Etheldreda’s shrine. Starting at about the same time the remaining lancet windows of the aisles and triforia of the presbytery were gradually replaced by broad windows with flowing tracery. At the same period extensive work took place on the monastic buildings, including the construction of the elegant chapel of Prior Crauden.
In the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries elaborate chantry chapels were inserted in the easternmost bays of the presbytery aisles, on the north for Bishop John Alcock (1486-1500) and on the south for Bishop Nicholas West (1515–33).
Later history of the building
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (August 2014)|
Following the Dissolution nearly all the stained glass and much of the sculpture in the Cathedral were destroyed; in the Lady Chapel the free-standing statues were removed and the other carved figures were decapitated. This was almost certainly at the instigation of reformist Bishop Thomas Goodrich (1534–54) who is on record as ordering churchwardens in the diocese to suppress images. Some commentators have suggested that significant destruction occurred during the Civil War and the Commonwealth, but most of the evidence points to there having been little imagery left to destroy by then.
In the 1690s a number of very fine baroque furnishings were introduced, notably a marble font, and an organ case mounted on the Romanesque pulpitum (the stone screen dividing the nave from the liturgical choir) with trumpeting angels and other embellishments. In 1699 the north-west corner of the north transept collapsed and there was extensive rebuilding, closely replicating the original medieval work - a very early example of such practice. However, the works included the insertion of a fine classical doorway in the north face. The name of Sir Christopher Wren has sometimes been associated with this latter feature. In fact it was the work of Robert Grumbold who had worked with Wren on Trinity College Library in Cambridge a few years earlier. Wren’s uncle Matthew Wren was bishop from 1638 to 1667, and Sir Christopher must have been familiar with the Cathedral, but surviving documentation indicates that he was personally involved only to the extent that he was among a number of people with whom the Dean (John Lambe 1693-1708) discussed the proposed works during a visit to London.
By the middle of the eighteenth century a number of structural problems had become apparent. The architect James Essex carried out major works between 1757 and 1770, including repairs and alterations to the timber structure of the octagon, redesigning the exterior of the lantern in “gothick” style, re-roofing the entire eastern arm and righting the eastern gable which was leaning outwards. He also re-ordered the interior, removing the Romanesque pulpitum and moving the liturgical choir to the far east end, with a new “gothick” choir screen two bays east of the octagon, surmounted by the 1690s organ case. However, Essex and the overseeing Canon James Bentham were both people of strong antiquarian interests and the restoration as a whole was relatively sympathetic by the standards of the period.
The next major period of restoration began in the 1840s and much of the oversight was the responsibility of Dean George Peacock (1839–58). In 1845 the architect George Basevi fell to his death in the west tower, but it appears that he was inspecting works in progress out of interest and had not been engaged professionally. George Gilbert Scott was responsible for various major works from 1847 but does not appear to have had any comprehensive brief to restore the entire building. This was his first cathedral commission. He returned the octagon lantern to a form which, to judge from pre-Essex depictions, seems to be genuinely close to the original. He again re-ordered the choir, moving the fourteenth-century stalls and the high altar two bays westwards, creating a carved wooden screen at the entrance to the choir from the octagon, and installing a lavishly carved and ornamented alabaster reredos. Various new furnishings replaced the baroque items from the 1690s. At the same period a great deal of stained glass by William Wailes and others was put in the windows of the octagon, the transepts and the eastern arm. A timber boarded ceiling was installed in the nave and painted with scenes from the Old and New Testaments, first by Henry Le Strange and then, after Le Strange’s death in 1862, completed by Thomas Gambier Parry, who also repainted the interior of the octagon.
A further major programme of structural restoration took place between 1986 and 2000 under Deans William Patterson (1984–90) and Michael Higgins (1991-2003), directed by successive Surveyors to the Fabric, initially Peter Miller and from 1994 Jane Kennedy. In 2000 a Processional Way was built, restoring the direct link between the north choir aisle and the Lady Chapel.
Ely has been an important centre of Christian worship since the seventh century AD. Most of what is known about its history before the Norman Conquest comes from Bede's Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum  written early in the eighth century and from the Liber Eliensis, an anonymous chronicle written at Ely some time in the twelfth century, drawing on Bede for the very early years, and covering the history of the community until the twelfth century. According to these sources the first Christian community here was founded by St. Æthelthryth (romanised as "Etheldreda"), daughter of the Anglo-Saxon King Anna of East Anglia, who was born at Exning near Newmarket. She may have acquired land at Ely from her first husband Tondberht, described by Bede as a "prince" of the South Gyrwas. After the end of her second marriage to Ecgfrith, a prince of Northumbria, in 673 she set up and ruled as abbess a dual monastery at Ely for men and for women. When she died, a shrine was built there to her memory. This monastery is recorded as having been destroyed in about 870 in the course of Danish invasions. However, while the lay settlement of the time would have been a minor one, it is likely that a church survived there until its refoundation in the 10th century. The history of the religious community during that period is unclear, but accounts of the refoundation in the tenth century  suggest that there had been an establishment of secular priests.
In the course of the revival of the English church under Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Aethelwold, Bishop of Winchester, a new Benedictine abbey for men was established in Ely in 970. This was one of a wave of monastic refoundations which locally included Peterborough and Ramsey. Ely became one of the leading Benedictine houses in late Anglo-Saxon England. Following the Norman conquest of England in 1066 the abbey allied itself with the local resistance to Norman rule led by Hereward the Wake. The new regime having established control of the area, after the death of the abbot Thurstan, a Norman successor Theodwine was installed. In 1109 Ely attained cathedral status with the appointment of Hervey le Breton as bishop of the new diocese which was taken out of the very large diocese of Lincoln. This involved a division of the monastic property between the bishopric and the monastery, whose establishment was reduced from 70 to 40 monks. Its status changed to that of a priory, with the bishop as titular abbot.
In 1539, during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the priory surrendered to Henry VIII’s commissioners. The cathedral was refounded by royal charter in 1541  with the former prior Robert Steward as dean and the majority of the former monks as prebendaries and minor canons, supplemented by Matthew Parker, later Archbishop of Canterbury, and Richard Cox, later Bishop of Ely. With a brief interruption from 1649 to 1660 during the Commonwealth, when all cathedrals were abolished, this foundation has continued in its essentials to the twenty-first century, with a reduced number of residentiary canons now supplemented by a number of lay canons appointed under a Church Measure of 1999.
As with other cathedrals, Ely’s pattern of worship centres around the Opus Dei, the daily programme of services drawing significantly on the Benedictine tradition. It also serves as the mother church of the diocese and ministers to a substantial local congregation. At the Dissolution the veneration of St Etheldreda was suppressed, her shrine in the cathedral was destroyed, and the dedication of the cathedral to her and St Peter was replaced by the present dedication to the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Since 1873 the practice of honouring her memory has been revived, and annual festivals are celebrated, commemorating events in her life and the successive “translations” - removals of her remains to new shrines – which took place in subsequent centuries.
- Dean – The Very Revd Mark Bonney (since 22 September 2012 installation)
- Canon Pastor – The Revd Canon David Pritchard (Pastor since mid-2008; additionally Acting Dean, 2011–2012; also Vice-Dean, early 2008–30 September 2011; previously Canon Precentor, 2004–mid-2008) Retired 31 December 2014 
- Canon Missioner – The Revd Canon Dr Alan Hargrave (Canon since 13 June 2004 installation; additionally Vice Dean, 30 September 2011 – December 2012)
- Canon Precentor – The Revd Canon Dr James Garrard (since 29 November 2008 installation)
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (February 2013)|
The burials below are listed in date order
Stained Glass Museum
The south triforium is home to the Stained Glass Museum, a collection of stained glass from the 13th century to the present that is of national importance and includes works from notable contemporary artists including Ervin Bossanyi.
In popular culture
- The cathedral appears on the horizon in the cover photo of Pink Floyd's 1994 album The Division Bell.
- A number of John Rutter's choral albums feature the cathedral, a reference to early recordings of his music being performed and recorded in the Lady chapel.
- Direct references to the cathedral appear in the children's book Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce. A full-length movie with the same title was released in 1999.
- A section of the film Elizabeth: The Golden Age was filmed at the cathedral in June 2006.
- Filming for The Other Boleyn Girl took place at the cathedral in August 2007.
- Parts of Marcus Sedgwick's 2000 novel Floodland take place at the cathedral after the sea has consumed the land around it turning Ely into an island.
- Direct references to Ely Cathedral are made in Jill Dawson's 2006 novel Watch Me Disappear.
- A week's filming took place in November 2009 at the cathedral, when it substituted for Westminster Abbey in The King's Speech.
- In April 2013, Mila Kunis was at the cathedral filming Jupiter Ascending.
- List of cathedrals in the United Kingdom
- Architecture of the medieval cathedrals of England
- St Etheldreda's Church
- English Gothic architecture
- Romanesque architecture
- Church of England
- Dean of Ely – list of previous deans
- Ely Eel Day
- William Selwyn – Canon and astronomer
- Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church, a 1916 church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA, modeled after Ely Cathedral
- Walter Frye
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- Labels based on a plan of 11937, in VCH for Ely: Atkinson, T D, Ethel M Hampson, E T Long, C A F Meekings, Edward Miller, H B Wells and G M G Woodgate. 'City of Ely: Cathedral.' A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 4, City of Ely; Ely, N. and S. Witchford and Wisbech Hundreds. Ed. R B Pugh. London: Victoria County History, 2002. 50-77. British History Online. accessed 11 March 2015.
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- Cathedrals Measure 1999 No 1
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ely Cathedral.|
- Ely Cathedral
- 360° interior panorama at BBC Cambridgeshire
- The Stained Glass Museum at Ely Cathedral.
- A history of the choristers of Ely Cathedral
- Flickr images tagged Ely Cathedral
- Article about the medieval stained glass in the Lady Chapel http://www.vidimus.org/archive/issue_22_2008/issue_22_2008-03.html