Sunday, 20 August 2017

All the Cathedrals (2): Ely

In our cathedral visits, Zero and I have encountered a recurring narrative. An initial foundation in Saxon times leading to a building that is no longer extant is followed by a re-foundation as a Benedictine monastery in Norman times. This gives rise to an architecture which is Romanesque/Norman in style, with perhaps an introduction of a Gothic style in the later parts of the building. The coming of King Henry VIII and his commissioners in the 16th century then results in the dissolution of the monastic community, with the church building continuing as the seat of the bishop of the diocese. Some degree of destruction of such features as the shrine of a saint, stained glass windows and statues may occur at this time, though the extent of this varies from cathedral to cathedral. One hundred years later, the arrival of Cromwell's soldiers is the occasion of a further destruction of images and stained glass. A stage of restoration in the 18th and/or 19th centuries adds a further layer to the architecture.

Ely Cathedral largely fits this pattern, though not exactly. It would appear that the destruction at Henry VIII's time left little for Cromwell's soldiers to do during their time of occupation of Ely. The empty niches left by removed statues and the - literally - defaced statues of the Lady Chapel are a striking witness to the iconoclasm executed during these years. There is also a predominance of Gothic over Norman in architectural style.

The Octagon, and the lantern above it, are a striking feature of Ely Cathedral. This YouTube video gives an account of the lantern and of the Lady Chapel. The other striking feature is the decoration of the ceiling of the nave (search results of a Google image search). The stained glass that is now in the cathedral largely belongs to the Victorian era.

A descriptive tour of the cathedral from the Ely Cathedral website is here. Wikipedia's account of the history of the Cathedral is here.

Arriving at Ely station, the open fens are on one side and the rise towards the hill (in so far as there is such a thing in the fens) upon which Ely Cathedral sits is on the other. We visited on a damp, overcast day which emphasised this geography. After visiting the Cathedral I was enticed into an extensive bookshop while Zero escaped to the charity shops. We lunched very well at the Lamb Inn.

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