Ely Cathedral
Ely Cathedral

When a ceiling becomes a major tourist attraction, you know its a very remarkable ceiling indeed. At Ely, the ceiling in question certainly qualifies as remarkable. Ely Cathedral boasts one of the most amazing engineering feats of the Middle Ages in the form of its unique Octagon Tower.

There has been a church here since the 7th century, when St. Etheldreda, a Saxon queen, founded a cathedral on an island rising out of the surrounding marshes of the Fenland.

The lantern tower exterior
The lantern tower exterior

Ely Cathedral was one of the premier Saxon churches in England, on a par with Glastonbury and Canterbury.

After the Norman invasion, Simeon, a kinsman of William the Conqueror, was named Abbot of Ely, and it was Simeon who began rebuilding the earlier Saxon cathedral in 1083, creating in the process one of the best examples of Romanesque architecture in England.

The Norman tower collapsed in the early 14th century, and it is then that Alan of Walsingham steps into the limelight of history. He designed a central tower that seems to float unsupported above the crossing of Ely Cathedral like a cloud.

The "lantern tower" is actually formed by a series of massive oak beams which rise to a height of 63 feet. The tower is supported by diagonal oak beams resting upon stone pillars. These pillars support a total weight of some 400 tons of wood and lead.

Most English cathedrals are built to a pattern of twin west towers flanking the main entrance and a central (crossing) tower. Ely has just one west tower and the huge Octagonal Tower.

The beams of Alan of Walsingham's creation were carefully restored by Sir Gilbert Scott in the Victorian period, and Scott added restrained restoration work to the interior. Much of the stained glass at Ely is Victorian also.

The Cathedral is much more than just a tower, however. The Norman carvings at are remarkable in themselves, particularly those decorating the Prior's Door, and the choir is resplendently rich in Gothic carvings, this time in wood.

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About Ely Cathedral
Address: Minster Place, Ely, Cambridgeshire, England, CB7 4DL
Attraction Type: Cathedral
Website: Ely Cathedral
Email: receptionist@elycathedral.org
Location map
OS: TL541 801
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express


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Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low to exceptional) on historic interest

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