Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire, England.

The Cathedral Church of The Holy and Undivided Trinity of Ely in Cambridgeshire is an Anglican cathedral widely recognised as a model example of Romanesque-Norman architecture because of its Romanesque core and basic Norman design.

Ely Cathedral is considered a masterpiece of medieval architecture.


ETHELDREDA, third daughter of Anna, King of East Anglia, was born near Newmarket about 630. At an early age, under the influence of her aunt, St. Hilda, of Whitby, she vowed to devote herself to the religious life, but for political reasons was forced to marry in turn Tonbert, a prince of the fenmen, and Eegfrid, son of Oswy of Northumbria. When the latter succeeded to his father’s kingdom Etheldreda resolved to retire from the world, took the veil at the hands of St. Wilfrid, and sought shelter in the desolate Isle of Ely, which her first husband had given her. There in 673 she founded a double house of monks and nuns, over which she presided till her death in 679. Her sisters, Sexburga and Ermenilda, and the latter’s daughter, Werburga, in turn ruled the house, but nothing further is recorded till 870 when the Danes, the only enemy capable of penetrating the watery defences of the island, sacked and burned the sanctuary of peace. A hundred years later Bishop Ethelwold, as at Peterborough, refounded the house as a Benedictine monastery, which became the camp of refuge in 1070 for Hereward’s gallant band, whose story has been immortalised by Charles Kingsley.

Of the Saxon church no fragments remain, the cross of St. Ovin, Etheldreda’s steward, being the only link with that period. Abbot Simeon began a new church in 1083, but it did not assume its present noble appearance til the completion of the octagon in 1342. Since then it has suffered severely at the hands of Bishop Goodrich in 1541, and the destroyers Essex and Wyatt in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The Puritans, though they destroyed the cloisters and the glass and stopped the services, did less damage than usual, for Cromwell had lived under the shadow of the church and must have come to love it. The modern restoration begun by Dean Peacock in 1843 has been one of the most successful in England.

The diocese was created in 1109, Henry fearing the undivided wealth and power of the abbot in his liberty. The revenues of that official were given to the bishop, and the prior became the head of the house. So to this day there is no episcopal throne in the cathedral, the bishop taking the abbot’s stall and the dean the prior’s.

Several names of interest, besides the builders, occur in the roll of the bishops. Nigel, William Longchamp, Thomas Bouchier, John Morton, John Alcock, Lancelot Andrewes, Peter Gunning are a few of those who took a prominent part outside the diocese in the affairs of the church and the state. One name is wanting from the list which the monks would fain have added — Alan of Walsingham, their beloved prior and master builder. Twice they elected him, but the Pope was obdurate. To leave, however, in beautiful works, a lasting influence for good, is a reward for which many a man has striven but few have gained — the highest reward of the great artist-teachers of men.

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Ely Cathedral. West Front.


HERE has been much discussion whether the monks ever built both parts of their western transept. Fairly conclusive evidence, however, has been brought to prove that Ely at one time did undoubtedly boast this unusual feature with five towers rising above it. Peterborough and Ely were keen rivals in the matter of building, both striving to attract pilgrims by the grandeur of their churches, so that it is no surprise to find features common to both, such as this western transept.

The great tower, 215 feet in height, belongs to two periods, the lower part late twelfth century, the upper part fifteenth century. It originally carried a small spire, but this was taken down in 1801.

Lincoln, Durham, and Ely alone have Galilee Porches: the example here is perhaps the finest. It is unhesitatingly ascribed by the chronicler to Bishop Eustace (1198—1215), in which case itis a striking example of the rapid development of the Early English style. Essex proposed to pull it down in 1757, but luckily the authorities saved it, though they allowed Wyatt fifty years later to mutilate it severely.

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The Nave


It is indeed a most happy chance that the great Norman nave of St. Etheldreda’s church is one of the best proportioned buildings of the period in England, for the later builders adhered absolutely to the original elevation when the presbytery and choir were built. The result is an unusual and striking harmony throughout, which is even more pleasing than the perfect unity of Exeter or Salisbury.

Abbot Richard (1100—07) built two bays of the nave to abut his central tower, and the western transept was finished ninety years later; a gradual development of style is thus seen from early Norman to very late.

The ceiling was designed and the western part painted by Mr. Le Strange; on his death in 1862, Mr. Gambier Parry finished the work together with the octagon. It is a splendid piece of designing, and the skilful choice of colours adds greatly to the apparent height of the nave. In the south aisle are the splendid Prior’s and Monks’ doorways, together with the Saxon cross bearing Ovin’s pathetic prayer.

The Norman rood screen was pulled down by Essex; its site was just east of the matrix which is traditionally said to mark Alan of Walsingham’s grave.

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The Choir, looking East.


BISHOP NORTHWOLD (1229—54) having resolved toprovide a shrine more worthy of the holy Etheldreda, pulled down the Norman apse and built a presbytery of six bays in the Early English style. The grand group of lancets at the east end is one of the noblest creations in the whole range of Gothic architecture. Of the carving of the capitals, the bosses, and the corbels, Professor Freeman’s opinion, enthusiastic though it be, is hard to contravert. “Lovelier detail,” he says, “was surely never wrought by the hand of man,” and though the work of the Southwell and Lincoln sculptors may challenge the statement, it would be difficult to say it surpasses Bishop Northwold’s creation.

Into this glorious sanctuary the body of the saint, in the divinely-given marble sarcophagus, was translated with great pomp, and the whole church dedicated in 1252 to St. Mary, St. Peter, and St. Etheldreda, in the presence of King Henry Ill.

After various changes the choir has been finally settled in the three western bays, and Sir Gilbert Scott’s gorgeous altar placed between the fourth and fifth bays of the presbytery. The eastern windows have been filled with excellent glass by Wailes, and the fine view of the choir from the nave fortunately preserved by the placing of the organ in the triforium.

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The Octagon.


THE Norman central tower fell in 1322 and destroyed the choir in its fall. It must have been with mixed feelings that the monks viewed the ruin of their church, for though they had lost a building rich in memories of the past, they had an architect of unigue skill in their midst, funds were plentiful, and they were inveterate builders. Alan of Walsingham, alone of English architects, saw a way to overcome the cramped effect produced by a narrow central tower standing over a long church. Clearing a vast space, taking in the aisles of the choir, transepts, and nave, he set out a grand octagon and laid his foundations on the rock. In six years the stone work was finished; the wooden dome and lantern took fourteen years longer.

For the angle post of the latter eight oaks over sixty feet long were found after a long search, and the forest of timber, a masterpiece of engineering, was at length safely poised above the great crossing.

The stone work was most delicately carved with scenes from the life of St. Etheldreda, the curious niches, no doubt, received their statues from the hand of the Lady Chapel sculptor, the vault and windows were made to glow with a thousand brilliant colours, and Prior Alan could claim indeed the title given him by his brethren — Flos Operatorum.

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Ely Cathedral. The Choir, looking West.


FROM no point is the exquisite lighting of the church better realised than from the presbytery. To the gloom of the richly furnished choir succeeds the brilliance of the octagon, beyond which the long nave stretches westward to the gleaming western Galilee. Viewed when the sun is low, either in the early morning or late afternoon, the scene is one of enchanting beauty and grandeur.

Though Alan of Walsingham’s choir may be inferior to the presbytery in purity of style and grace of proportion, it has a luxuriant richness which captivates the eye and disarms criticism. The fine range of fourteenth century stalls has been admirably restored and completed by the panels of M. Abeloos, while the organ case and choir screen have been made to harmonise most happily with the old work.

The choir is separated from the presbytery by two Norman piers, the only remains of the original building. To the east of these piers are the tombs of Bishop Redman (1505-6), an elaborate Perpendicular structure, and Bishop William of Louth (1290—1310), an Early English canopy richly painted. Two bays of the triforium on each side were glazed by Bishop Barnet (1366—73), to admit more light to the shrine of St. Etheldreda, which stood below. From the outside the effect is very ugly.

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The North Choir Aisle


ELY has many tombs of artistic and historic interest, chief among them the Decorated structure in the north choir aisle, known as the shrine of St. Etheldreda. After the dissolution the shrine was moved from its place of honour behind the high altar, and all but the stone part was lost. In this aisle are the tombs of Bishops Northwold and Kilkenny, splendid specimens of thirteenth century work. On the south side of the high altar are buried Bishop Hotham, who held the see during Walsingham’s great building period, and the two wives of John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester, one of the greatest scholars of his time. The brasses of Bishop Goodrich and Dean Tyndall are interesting examples of ecclesiastical costume of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

At the east end of the choir aisles are the chantry chapels of Bishops Alcock and West, the latter a rare example of early Renaissance work of great delicacy. In it are buried six Saxon bishops and Earl Brithnoth. Close by is a slab of early Norman date, representing the archangel Michael bearing a soul to heaven. It is supposed to be from the tomb of Nigel, Treasurer of Henry I and nephew of the great Roger of Salisbury.

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The Lady Chapel


THE usual position for the Lady Chapel in English churches was at the east end, projecting beyond the choir. But the shrine of St. Etheldreda, like the shrine of Becket at Canterbury, already occupied the place of honour, so the monks built an entirely separate church at the north-east corner of the north transept. Walsingham laid the foundation stone in 1321, and the work was finished in 1349, that is to say it was carried on while the choir and octagon were rising again from the ruins of the central tower.

The chief feature of the chapel is the richly sculptured arcade, which runs round the entire building. In the spandrels of the lovely ogee canopies is carved a complete history of the Virgin, together with some of the chief events in the life of our Lord. All the figures have been decapitated, but they are most exquisite even in their mutilated condition.

The windows at each end were inserted some time after the chapel was finished, perhaps to give additional support to the heavy vault, which has an unusual span of forty-six feet.

After the destruction of the chapel of St. Cross in 1566, the Lady Chapel was given to the parishioners, and dedicated to the Holy Trinity.

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From the South


THE picturesque group of buildings, which lies to the south of the cathedral, contains many charming fragments of the extensive offices of the Benedictine monastery. Chief among them for beauty is the little chapel built by Walsingham, for Prior Crauden, which, as Mr. Bond says, “would be the cynosure of any other cathedral, but which passes almost unnoticed amid the glories of Ely.”

The infirmary buildings and “Gent Hall” lie close to the east end of the cathedral, while the Deanery incorporates a large part of the Guest House, together with fragments of the kitchen and refectory. The King’s School, founded by Henry VIII, makes use of the ancient Fair Hall, Gallery Buildings, and Gateway.

The latter is known as the Ely Porta, though occasionally it is spoken of as Walpole’s Gate, having been built during his priorate. Of the cloisters there are hardly any remains, but two bays have been rebuilt as a vestry; of the chapter-house only enough has been found to determine its rectangular plan.

Ely’s exceptional length, 537 feet, shows to its full advantage on the crest of the hill, and the low red roofs of the town, when viewed from the railway or the market place, make a most picturesque foreground.

Source: Ely Cathedral by Arnold Fairbairns. London: E.T.W. Dennis & Sons, 1907.

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South-East View from Barway Bank


by Benjamin Winkles

The Christian religion in England gradually declined from the time of the Saxon invasion, and was entirely extinct in many parts, when Pope Gregory sent a number of missionaries from Rome, with the famous Augustin at their head, to endeavour to bring about the conversion of our Saxon ancestors. This company of preachers arrived in the Isle of Thanet, in the year 597.

The Isle of Ely at that time formed a part of the kingdom of East Anglia, which was founded by Uffa, the eighth in descent from Woden, about the year 575.

Redwald, grandson of Uffa, was persuaded by Ethelbert, king of Kent, to embrace the Christian faith, and was accordingly baptised in the year 599. Ethelbert, at the instigation of Augustin, founded a church at Cratendune, one mile from the present city of Ely, soon after Redwald’s conversion; and Redwald himself, it is asserted, founded one in Ely. This is nevertheless questioned by some, and yet all are agreed that he certainly founded one at Rendlesham, in Suffolk, one of his royal seats. Redwald, however, soon after his conversion relapsed into idolatry, at the instigation of his wife and other evil councillors; and yet not so as wholly to reject the Christian religion, for he had in the same building an altar dedicated to Christ and another to idols. Probably his conversion was never sound and sincere, or perhaps he was but imperfectly instructed may be, he has the character of having been indifferent about all religion, and, as might be expected, under such a king, the Christian religion languished during the whole of his reign in the kingdom of East Anglia.

Redwald died in the year 624, and was succeeded by his son Eorpwald, who was not converted and baptised till after he ascended the throne. This event was brought about by the persuasion of his friend Edwin, king of Northumberland, who was a very zealous Christian. Under Eorpwald, had he lived, the Christian religion would have flourished, but the general conversion of the East Angles was soon again interrupted by his death. He was slain by Ricbert (also Ricberht, Ricberctus), a pagan, who at the same time took possession of the kingdom, though he was never firmly seated on the throne. For three years nothing but confusion and misery was to be seen in East Anglia. At the expiration of that time, Sigebert, the brother of Eorpwald then an exile in France (though on what account is not known), returned to England, and was soon after placed on the throne which his father and brother had filled before him. During the period of his banishment in France he had been converted and baptised, and is said by historians to have been an eminently virtuous and pious prince. The origin of the neighbouring university of Cambridge is attributed to him: he founded also a bishop’s see at Dunwich, an abbey at Burgh Castle, and another at Bury, all in Suffolk. After a prosperous reign of four years, in which the general conversion of his subjects was completed, he retired from his kingdom and the world into his own abbey at Burgh Castle, where he took the profession and habit of religion. He resigned his crown in favour of Egric, his cousin, who had for some time been coadjutor with him in the kingdom.

About four years after the abdication of Sigebert, Penda, the pagan king of Mercia, came suddenly with a powerful army into East Anglia, and laid the whole country waste with lire and sword. In this distress Egric and his subjects besought Sigebert to come forth from his retirement, and lend them his powerful assistance by his advice and his presence. He resisted, however, their first solicitation, and replied to it, that he did not think it consistent with his religious profession and habit to bear arms; but on a second application, he so far yielded to their wishes as to leave his retirement, and appear with the army on the field of battle, though he would have nothing in his hand but a wand, and persisted to the last in his resolution of taking no active part in the fight. The consequence was that both Sigebert and Egric were slain, and their whole army defeated.

To Egric succeeded Anna, the son of Enus, who was the brother of Redwald. Anna was an excellent Christian prince, greatly and justly beloved by all his subjects. In his time Christianity flourished; but the same Penda came again into East Anglia, the country was again reduced to a desert, and the good king Anna, withli is eldest son, Jurminus, both slain. Before Anna came to the throne he married Hereswitha, daughter of Hereric, grandson of Edwin and sister of the famous St. Hilda, the foundress of Whitby Abbey. By Hereswitha, Anna had a numerous, and as Bede says, a glorious offspring, viz. Jurminus, slain with his father in the field of battle; Adulfus, who succeeded his father in the kingdom; Erkenwald, who was bishop of London, in the year 675, and founded the abbey of Barking, in Essex; Sexburga, who was married to Ercombert, king of Kent; Edelburga, who became abbess of Barking; Withburga, who founded a nunnery at East Dereham, in Norfolk; and Etheldreda, the renowned foundress of the abbey in Ely, who was born about the year 630, at Ixning, then a place of considerable importance, but now a small village in the most western part of Suffolk, bordering on Cambridgeshire.

Note:  Constance of Castile, Duchess of Lancaster with horned head-dress.

Etheldreda became the first abbess of her own foundation at Ely, about the year 673, which she governed so as to gain the esteem and veneration not only of all the members of her convent, but of the inhabitants of the surrounding country. She died in the year 679, and was succeeded by her sister Sexburga (also Seaxburh, Sexberga), who was then become a widow. Sexburg a governed the establishment with equal credit to herself and advantage to the convent and the neighbourhood for twenty years, and dying in the year 699, was succeeded by her own daughter Ermenilda; how long she remained at the head of the convent is not known, but her fame as a good abbess is scarcely, if at all, inferior to that of those who preceded her in the same place and dignity.

She had a daughter named Werburga, who became the next abbess on the death of her mother; of Werburga we know but little more than that, like her predecessors and relatives, she also was canonized; and hence we may presume she was little, if at all, inferior to them in respect of piety and charity, and those austere virtues and mortifications which usually paved the way for a reception into the calendar.

The time of her death is not known, nor the manner of it, but many abbesses after St. Werburga succeeded each other till the year 870, when the monastery was destroyed by the Danes; and shortly after that was occupied by a college of secular priests till the reign of King Edgar, when the abbey was refounded by Ethelwold, bishop of Winchester, in the year 970. Brithnoth, prior of Winchester, was the first abbot: he was placed here by the founder, and rebuilt the conventual church.

In 1066, Thurstan was abbot, and defended the Isle of Ely seven years against William the Conqueror. In 1081 Simeon, another prior of Winchester, was elected abbot, who laid the foundation of the present Cathedral. After his death there was a vacancy of seven years.

In 1100 a person, who is called only Richard, succeeded Simeon. This abbot Richard obtained the king’s licence and the pope’s consent to erect the abbey into a bishopric, but he died before the change was legally effected. In 1107 Hervey, bishop of Bangor, from which see it is said he was unjustly driven away, was elected abbot of Ely.

He renewed the attempt of his predecessor to make Ely a bishop’s see, and after two years succeeded, and was himself the first bishop of it. Many obstacles presented themselves, but he had the good fortune to overcome them all. After the change had been determined upon, the next question was as to what should constitute the new diocese.

Ely was already a part of the diocese of Lincoln, and the bishops of Lincoln claimed some sort of jurisdiction within the Isle of Ely itself, though it seems this claim had never been legally settled in their favour. Hervey communicated with Robert, then bishop of Lincoln, upon this subject, and it was at length agreed upon between them, that the manor of Spaldwick, in Huntingdonshire, then part of the possessions of the abbey of Ely, should be given up and conveyed to Robert and his successors for ever, in exchange for all his peculiar jurisdiction in the isle, and all his episcopal rights over the whole county of Cambridge, which was henceforth to form the new diocese of Ely.

The matter was next brought before a council assembled in London by the king’s desire in the year 1108, wherein it was agreed that the diocese of Lincoln was too extensive for the superintendence of one bishop, and that the interests of religion required that another bishopric should be taken out of it, whose see should be fixed in the abbey of Ely. To this arrangement the pope, on application being made to him, readily consented. Such was the origin of the see and diocese of Ely. We will now proceed to give an account of that superb fabric whose foundations were laid as an abbey, but which very soon after became a Cathedral Church.

The foundations of the present Cathedral were laid by Simeon, abbot of Ely in the time of Henry I. and William Rufus: he did not live to furnish more than the old choir and the transept. Of his work the transept only now remains. The nave, great western tower (as high as the first battlements), with its south wing, are the next portions in point of antiquity: the former was finished in 1174, and the latter in 1189. In 1200 the western portico was begun and finished in 1215; it was anciently called the Galilee.

Of these adjuncts to our Cathedrals some account has been given in the history and description of Lincoln Cathedral.

In 1552 the Cathedral was extended eastward six arches more. This building is called the presbytery. About the same time a spire was erected on the old central tower, which in all probability contributed to its downfall, which happened in the year 1322.

In 1321 the new Lady Chapel, now Trinity Church, was begun.

In 1322 the octagon was begun, and in the year following the building of the three arches eastward of it, the former ones having been destroyed by the falling of the old tower principally in that direction. In 1328 the stone work of the octagon was finished. In 1342 the wood work and roof of the octagon and lantern were completed; and about the same time the stalls of the choir were erected.

In 1349 the Lady Chapel was finished. In 1373 three windows on the south and two on the north side of the presbytery were rebuilt in the newer style, to agree with the adjoining building.

In 1380 the octagonal building and four angular turrets were erected on the original western tower.

In 1405 it was thought necessary to strengthen the arches and piers which support the great tower, on account of this superstructure. This was done by casing them with stone: and in 1454 it became necessary to add still more to the strength of the sepiers and arches, and which was at that time more effectually performed.

In 1460 two more windows were inserted on the north side of the presbytery. In 1488 the chapel of Bishop Alcock was erected, and in 1534 that of Bishop West; since which nothing has been built, but many things destroyed. The cloisters were taken down in 1650, and irreparable mischief at the same time done in various parts of the Cathedral. Since that period many and important have been the repairs, which time and accidents have rendered necessary. In 1662 the north wall of the nave was repaired.

In 1669 the north-west angle of the north wing of the great transept fell down and was restored.

In 1748 the spire was ordered to be taken down from the top of the great western tower, which was so much against the will of the inhabitants of Ely, that they petitioned to have it remain, which petition was granted, but the spire has since been removed.

In 1762 the wood work of the octagon and lantern were thoroughly and very cleverly repaired.

In 1768 the roof of the presbytery was repaired, and at the same time the upper part of the east end being two feet out of the perpendicular, was skilfully restored to its proper position by that most able mechanic and architect, Mr. Essex.

In 1770 the choir was removed into the presbytery, by which all the interior effect of the Cathedral has been greatly improved. In 1801 the upper parts of the tower were repaired, and in the following year the roof of the Lady Chapel. In the same year the outside of the galilee was restored and beautified, as was also the inside of the great tower. For the former part of the foregoing information we are indebted chiefly to Mr. Bentham’s excellent history of this Cathedral, and for the latter to Mr. Miller’s description of the same, than which no visitor can have a more faithful, useful, or pleasant guide in his hand, while he inspects this highly interesting and imposing edifice.

Few Cathedrals indeed have had the advantage of such an historian as Bentham, and few historians have had such a subject for their investigation as Ely Cathedral presents. It is certainly one of the very first magnitude and importance. A more vast, magnificent, and beautiful display of ecclesiastical architecture, and especially of the different periods of the pointed style, can scarcely be conceived. The Norman portion of the building is late in its date, and lighter in its character than earlier examples of the same style: indeed, in many places it bears evident marks of transition from the round to the pointed style.

Of the various portions of the present Cathedral, then, the dates are well as certained from authentic documents. This being the case, and the fact admitted that the pointed style continually progressed all over England at least, and with nearly equal pace, it follows that the several portions of Ely Cathedral become valuable as criterions of the age of other buildings in this country, in the absence of more precise and certain evidence.

Of each of the three successive styles of Gothic architecture Ely possesses in its Cathedral Church a pure and perfect specimen; pure as being free from all transition mixture, and perfect as to the design and execution of the detail. The galilee and the presbytery were built when the first or early English style was settled and perfected; The octagon, the three arches east of it, and the Lady Chapel, when the second, or decorated English, was in that state and Bishop Alcock’s chapel, when the third, or perpendicular style, had reached the same.

It has been observed that there is more variety of plan among the Cathedrals of the pointed style in England than among those of the same style in France. However this may be, there is certainly in every Cathedral in England something peculiar to itself, and this of Ely has more peculiarities than any other in England, for, first, the great west tower, with its south wing, has no parallel in England. At Bangor, the Cathedral has indeed a tower at the west end, and so have the parish churches of England very generally, than which that Cathedral is nothing more in its external appearance; and if the towers could be compared (which would be like comparing a giant to a dwarf, or a mountain to a mole hill,) yet Bangor tower has no wing; that feature is entirely peculiar to Ely Cathedral. Another peculiarity is the octagon with its lantern; another, the unusual size and situation of the Lady Chapel and, lastly, the anti-choir or space; between the octagon and the choir screen. This peculiarity indeed is of modern date, and no part of the original design. The want of cloisters and a chapter-house is an accidental circumstance; both once existed, as some remains of both, which are still visible, sufficiently prove.

Several different sorts of stone have been made use of in the building of this Cathedral, all of which must have been brought from various places, and some from considerable distances. There is besides in the construction of the interior detail a vast quantity of Purbeck marble, and of a soft stone of a chalky nature, which is known in this part of the country by the name of clunch.

From these general remarks we will now proceed to take a more particular survey of every part of this huge and solemn pile.

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Ely Cathedral. West Front


The west front of a Cathedral is usually the most important and imposing portion of its exterior; and had this of Ely Cathedral remained in its original state, nothing of the kind could have exceeded it in impressive grandeur. But, alas! the north wing is gone; and the tower, by the additional octagon and turrets, already spoken of, being raised upon it, is become of a most disproportionate height. The galilee, also a most beautiful object in itself, helps to destroy the harmony of the whole. But take that away, which formed no part of the original design; take down also the octagonal addition to the tower with its turrets, and erect the north wing exactly like the south which still remains, and a more august and striking facade cannot be conceived. Such was the noble design of the architect, and for a few years it probably existed in that state. Is it ever likely to be seen so again? Prudence may perhaps hereafter demand the demolition of the offensive octagon and turrets, and the sooner the better. But, alas! the same motive must ever operate in these days against the re-edification of the north wing.

Geoffry Ridel, the third bishop, designed and lived to finish, nearly, the original west front. He died in 1189, and nothing but the battlements of the original tower were left for his successor Longchamp, to erect. With respect to the upper portion of the tower and turrets above the original battlements, whether it was the work of the bishop or convent is not certain, it was injudicious on all accounts; its injurious effects were very soon perceived, and vast sums were expended to counteract them at different times.

This great superincumbent weight in all probability has caused the destruction of the north wing. Whenever the former shall be taken off, the materials should in all justice and fairness be employed in the re-construction of the latter. These wings of the great tower formed a sort of second transept to the church at that point: they had, and the south wing still has, polygonal turrets at the angles that at the south-west angle is nearly double the diameter of the other, though they are of equal height. They seem to be dodecagons engaged, that is, eight of their sides are external, and four within the walls of the building which they thus flank. This wing with its turrets is covered all over with ranges of arches one above another; the three lowest are circular, the fourth are trefoil-headed, the fifth, and all above on the turrets, which rise considerably above the wing, are pointed and profusely adorned with Norman mouldings; the wing and turrets are both embattled.

The western portico or galilee by which the Cathedral is entered is a beautiful example of the early English style, and being, as is generally agreed, the work of Bishop Eustachius, is a very early example of the perfect state of that style; for Eustachius died in the year 1215, and therefore this work must have been finished at least five years before the present Cathedral of Salisbury was begun.

Within the large arch are two smaller ones, feathered, resting on a single clustered column, which divides the entrance into two equal parts. The intervening space above the smaller arch is adorned with an elegant leafy pattern of open stone work, not unlike the tracery often found in the heads of windows belonging to the succeeding style of Gothic architecture. Above this portal are three tall lancet-headed windows of one light each, the centre one only a very little taller than the other two: the space on each side the windows and portal is adorned with four tiers of arches, supported on slender columns, and flanked by clustered buttresses terminated by plain conical pinnacles. It is surmounted also by an embattled parapet, the middle portion of which rises higher than the rest.

The nave and transept, with their side aisles, are very nearly alike on both sides the Cathedra], the clerestory exactly so, viz. a plain parapet, projecting a little and supported by pilasters, dividing it into compartments, which are filled up with three round arches on slender cylindrical columns with plain capitals; the middle one forms a window of one light, and is wider and rises higher than the others. The side aisles are embattled, and divided into the same number of compartments on the face of the wall, as in the clerestory, but by slightly projecting buttresses instead of pilasters divided horizontally by a string course into two stories. The windows, with the exception of three on the south side of the nave, (which are of the original form) are all insertions of later ages, some of decorated and some of perpendicular character.

The cloisters were on the south side of the nave, the north-east angle of them is still perfect; and other portions in ruins are still visible in the dean’s garden. Under the north-east angle of the cloisters is what is called the monk’s entrance into the Cathedral, at the north-west end of the same is the prior’s; they are both of Norman architecture, the former richly sculptured, and the latter a still more magnificent and elaborate work of that style.

A little to the south of the cloister stood the chapter-house, of which only just enough remains to shew that it was a building co-eval with the oldest part of the present Cathedral.

The south and north fronts of the transept are not exactly similar, the principal difference between them is in the gable portion of each.

The south gable has one wide and low window of seven lights, with simple tracery in the head, and is sunk within a deep recess of the same ungraceful form. The north gable has two much better proportioned windows side by side, and of about the same age. The lower portions are of the original Norman work; a slight difference exists between them as there does also between the upper part of the turrets, by which both fronts are flanked, which the spectator will detect, but which would take more room to describe than the difference deserves.

The octagon with its lantern, in the place of the old central tower, is quite unique. The extreme beauty and merit, however, of this portion of the Cathedral is observable chiefly from within. Externally it is too wide and too low, and the lantern is not only disproportionately small, but being of wood, has no agreement with the massiveness and grandeur of the stone octagon, in connection with which it must always be viewed. The octagon is not equilateral, but is in fact a square with the corners cut off, the four broader sides correspond with the four arms (so to speak) of the Cathedral, and the four narrower cut off the corners made by the intersection of those arms, and are therefore visible down to the roof of the side aisles in each case. The octagon is only of one story above the roof, and is adorned with an arcade of pointed arches, feathered and canopied, some of which are pierced through and glazed to admit light: the broader sides have six, the narrower only three of such arches: it is also further adorned with an open stone parapet of beautiful design.

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The spaces below the arcades of the narrower sides are filled up with large and acutely pointed windows of four lights each, with good flowing tracery in the heads of them. At the points where the external angles of the octagon would be, if the sides met, hexagonal embattled turrets rising above the parapet are cleverly inserted, so as to display three of their sides outwardly, which relieve the octagon of some part of its heavy appearance.

Ely, Cathedral, East, End, View, England, Architecture, Gothic,
The East End

As soon as the south wing of the transept is passed, a succession of deeply projecting buttresses and a crowd of crocheted pinnacles burst upon the view. The introduction of larger windows, a lighter style of architecture, and stone vaulting, made these external supports absolutely necessary. Had these props been nothing more than plain solid masonry sloping from the top to the bottom, they would have been equally useful; but in that case all the external appearance would have been sacrificed to the beauty of the interior: to obviate this the buttress is first of all broken into three or more stories; that is, it slopes a little way, and then takes a perpendicular direction; slopes again, and is perpendicular again: and so on till it projects as far as is needful for the safety of the building; then the buttress is surmounted with a pinnacle, oftentimes both panelled and crocheted, and in later times every portion of the buttress was panelled with feathered tracery and some figure set upon each break, or increase in the projection, and when the building to be thus propped had also side aisles, the buttresses were built to the walls of them, and in order to support the clerestory walls above, what are called flying buttresses were adopted, which reach from those walls in a sloping direction to the buttresses of the side aisles below.

These are also oftentimes adorned with paneling, and sometimes also, though not often, in England, with beautiful open tracery; and thus not only was every objection to these external props removed, but they themselves became a most conspicuous addition to the external beauty of the fabric which they at the same time supported: of this, the south side of the choir and anti-choir of Ely Cathedral, now under review, is a splendid proof.

The east end of the choir is of the same style with the rest of it. It is divided into three stories, the lowest has three lancet-headed windows side by side of one light each, and (what is rather singular) all of equal height. The next story contains five windows side by side of one light each, and pointed in the same manner, but, in this instance, the middle one rises higher than the one on each side of it, and these again than those beyond them. The third story, which is the gable itself, is adorned with three lancet windows of nearly equal height, which admit light between the roofs. Above these windows are three feathered panels deeply recessed; the like are also on a smaller scale inserted in the two stories below. The gable point is adorned with an ornamented cross. This east end is also flanked with square turrets or buttresses, whose surfaces are enriched with deeply sunk and feathered panels. The eastern faces of the side aisles appear as wings to the east end of the choir; the south wing has in it the window which lights Bishop West’s chapel, of late perpendicular character; the north wing, a window of late decorated or of transition style from that to early perpendicular, which lights Bishop Alcock’s chapel.

Ely, Cathedral, North-West, View, England, Architecture, Gothic,
North-West View

The wall above the former window is plain solid masonry; above the latter it is adorned with an arcade of lancet arches. Both wings are flanked with double buttresses at the angles, upon which is set an enormous octagonal pinnacle crocheted. The north side of the choir and anti-choir is so nearly the same as the south side, that nothing need be said more upon the subject. Indeed the Lady Chapel being built parallel to it, and not much above forty feet from it, the north side of the choir is hut little seen. The south-west angle of this beautiful chapel adjoins the north-east angle of the north wing of the transept.

Such a situation for such an edifice is perhaps unique. The chapels dedicated to St. Mary were generally at the east end of the church, though sometimes at the side; they were also usually of much less dimensions. The plan of this chapel is an oblong, having a very large window at the east and Avest end, and five windows on each side; the first window at the western extremity of the south side is indeed walled up, and under it is the entrance into the chapel from the north wing of the Cathedral transept.

Between each window is a projecting buttress, crowned with a richly crocheted pinnacle: at the corners of the chapel are double buttresses, on each of which is erected a pinnacle of much larger dimensions; the east and west fronts are richly decorated with arcades and canopied niches; and the gable point is adorned with a niche rising above the elegantly pierced parapet which runs all round the building.

Ely, Cathedral, Galilee, Porch, England, Architecture, Gothic,
The Galilee Porch

Passing by the north side of the nave, which is too similar to the south side, already described to need any further description, we come to the ruins of the north wing of the great west tower. It is generally believed that the weight of the octagon upon that tower caused the destruction of this north wing. By what still remains of it we may safely conclude that it was in all respects exactly similar to the south wing. Unfortunately it was never rebuilt, although it is quite evident that a building on the same spot, of different dimensions and style, was begun some years after the fall of the original wing that such a building was never completed is a subject of; congratulation rather than regret. Nothing but the re-construction of a wing similar to the south Aving can ever satisfy the eye of the antiquary, or the architect, or the visitor of correct taste. But, alas! such persons are more likely to be called upon to deplore the loss of the south wing than to rejoice together over the rebuilding of the north, as it is now in a very tottering condition, and much defaced, by being propped, cramped, screwed, and tied together in every part and in various ways.


The Cathedral is entered from the west through the galilee. The sides of this building internally are occupied by two large pointed arches, comprehending under each two rows of smaller ones; the upper of five, the lower of three, supported by very slender columns. In the upper row on each side, the middle arch has a cinquefoil head, and those on the sides of it such portions of the cinquefoil as bring them with in the circumscribing arch.

The lower rows have trefoiled heads, and all are decorated with that favourite moulding, which is like a flower of four leaves, with its leaves turned backwards towards its stem. All the shafts are of Purbeck marble, with wreathed capitals of flowers and foliage. Below the arches on each side are stone benches. Here the penitents used to sit, while they waited their re-admission into the church.

The arch of entrance into the Cathedral is very similar to that by which the galilee is entered from without. They both rest on ten slender columns, five on each side, while a middle column with detached shafts divide them into two smaller arches. From the galilee the visitor passes into the lower part of the tower, and from thence obtains a general view of the interior of the Cathedral, the effect of which is indeed sublime.

The long and lofty nave, with its side aisles, opening into the ample octagon, beyond which the richly decorated anti-choir, with its screen and organ, and over that and stretching far beyond it, the present choir may all be seen at once, from underneath the tower, where the reader must now suppose himself to stand. Before we take him from that spot we must acquaint him with the improvements which have been made in this part of the building.

In the year 1802 the old belfry floor, with the spars and beams for the bell ropes, were removed, and the magnificent arch by which the tower communicates with the nave then became visible in all its extent. Here also the reader may see what was done to strengthen the tower, after the raising of the octagonal story upon it, he will observe that the four grand arches which support it are not what the external appearance of the tower has led him to expect; they were once, however, of that sort of pointed arch used in Norman times, small examples of which are to be seen in abundance in the upper part of the tower: this fact is proved by the outward face of the western arch being still visible in its original form; indeed all the four arches remain, but are now concealed behind a thick casing of stone, which was added in order to strengthen the arches, and enable them to bear the weight of the superadded octagon.

This was done in the year 1405, and the arches of course are of the form then in use, and the spaces between the piers consequently much contracted. The north and south arches are but in the stud and plaster work of the south arch there is a door, by which the south wing of the tower is entered.

The walls are adorned with ranges of arches one above another of various dimensions and forms, some round, some pointed, and some intersecting; in the east wall there is a semi-circular archway, ornamented with a zigzag moulding; which is now blocked up, and propped with an immense brick pier: it is supposed that it once gave entrance to a chapel, which has been long since destroyed. There was formerly a communication between this wing of the tower and the bishop’s palace by means of a gallery; and it is conjectured that the bishops entered the Cathedral by this nearest point unseen, and under cover the whole way.

This may in some measure account for the great display of architectural detail observable in the interior of this part of the Cathedral. We will now conduct the reader back to the spot from whence he first beheld the general view of the whole interior, and describe more particularly first the nave and its side aisles.

The nave has in its length a semi-circular arcade on each side of twelve arches supported on piers, constructed so as to agree with the several mouldings of the arches, and to appear as an assemblage of semi-cylindrical columns with very plain capitals; the arches are somewhat more than semi-circular, not forming however a greater arch than a semi-circle but for a little way above the columns, they are rectilinear before they take the circular bend.

Ely, Cathedral, Nave, England, Architecture, Gothic,
The Nave

Above this is another arcade on each side of semi-circular arches, resting on the same kind of supports, though not half the height of those below. Each arch of these arcades comprehends two small ones, supported by a single cylindrical column.

Above this arcade is a third, composed of three arches in each compartment, side by side, the middle one rising a little above the others, and containing a round-headed window of one light. The nave of Ely Cathedral is simple in its outline and vast in its dimensions; the columns and arches may be said to be almost without ornament; all that can be called ornament, being merely a band of single billet moulding running the whole length between the first and second arcade, and a still more simple one of a semi-cylindrical form, between the second and third, and at the top of all. The effect is very imposing, altogether, but it is somewhat injured by the want of a stone vaulting.

All is now open from the pavement to the leads; in looking upwards the visitor is disappointed, at seeing nothing but a set of rafters, which at so great a height appear not more substantial than those of an ordinary parish church or dwelling house; and as he passes along the nave will be led to say within himself, surely these solid walls and massive arcades were intended for a nobler purpose.

Persons, however, have been found to admire this timber roof, for its lightness and ingenious construction, and it may be in itself worthy of admiration, but it is totally out of place here; and though some think that it adds to the lightness and loftiness of the nave, it is more generally thought that a plain stone vaulting would be a great improvement. Such a vaulting the side aisles of the nave do actually possess; it is perfectly plain, and of the original Norman work. Under the windows of the side aisles runs an arcade of small semi-circular arches, resting on pilasters.

The southern side aisle has three windows of the original form the first (beginning westward), the third, and the last but two; all the rest of the windows in both side aisles are of later ages. An interruption of the arcade under a window in the north aisle denotes the place where there was a door of communication with the parish church of St.Cross. This door was closed up above two hundred years ago, when the Lady Chapel was given, instead of that church, to the parish of the Holy Trinity.

At the west end of the same aisle, under an arch in the wall, is a relique of antiquity deserving some notice. It is the lower part of a stone cross, with its square pedestal, found many years ago at Haddenham, in the Isle of Ely, and placed here by Mr. Bentham, the celebrated antiquary and historian of this Cathedral. The inscription on the pedestal is very legible: – LUCEM TUAM OVINO DA DEUS ET REQUIEM. AMEN. *)

*) “Give, O God, to Ovin, your light and rest. Amen”.

This Ovin, to whose memory the cross was erected, was steward to Queen Etheldreda, the foundress; it is therefore in all probability a work of the end of the seventh, or at latest the beginning of the eighth century.

We come now to the octagon and lantern, a most singularly beautiful and skilful work; in which solidity and gracefulness, magnificence and lightness, are so happily blended together, that the spectator is at a loss to decide in which of these respects it is most worthy of admiration.

The original square tower which stood here gave way and fell eastward, involving in its ruins the three first arches of the original choir. This happened in 1322, and though the building of the new Lady Chapel was begun the year before, yet the repair of this extensive mischief was instantly undertaken. The stone work of the octagon was finished in six years, and its wooden roof and lantern in fourteen more.

Alan de Walsingham, at that time sacrist, was the architect. The idea was altogether new, and the work remains to this day an undeniable proof of his exquisite skill and taste as an architect. By throwing the weight upon eight strong piers and arches, instead of four, he has given to this part of the Cathedral, not only greater strength, but a magnificence of space and a gracefulness of form, such as is to be seen in no other Cathedral in England of the pointed style.

An immense body of light is let down from the lantern above, and when the spectator raises his eyes upwards, he cannot but wonder at the skill which has contrived to suspend a very heavy timber roof over so wide an area without a pillar to assist in supporting it.

Before the downfall of the tower the choir was here, and here it was again placed as soon as the octagon was finished, which not only spoilt the effect of it, but also the effect of the general view of the whole interior of the Cathedral. Happily it was removed in the year 1769 to its present situation; a far better one for the purpose; indeed, its former position was the worst that could be for singing, reading, and hearing.

Ely, Octagon, Cathedral, England, Architecture, Gothic,
The Octagon

In the four greater sides of the octagon are four lofty arches, which open into the four principal parts of the church. In the four shorter sides are four other arches, much lower than the others, opening obliquely into the side aisles, and having those windows above them, which have been already described as visible externally, and coming down to the roof of the side aisles. All these arches are supported by those elegantly clustered columns which were then come into general use. Their capitals are composed of wreaths of flowers and foliage gracefully designed and exquisitely finished.

The wall between these arches and the windows above is ornamented with trefoiled recesses, canopied, and having brackets, upon which doubtless once stood statues. The clustered columns from which the ribs of the vaulting of the octagon spring are not continued to the pavement, but seem to rise from the top of a number of niches richly canopied and crocketed, but now without statues; these niches rest upon brackets which are, each of them, supported by a small cluster of very slender columns, upon the capitals of which are represented in relief the most important events in the history of St. Etheldreda.

Beginning at the right side of the north-west arch, the first represents her reluctant marriage with Egfrid, king of Northumberland; 2. her taking the veil in the monastery of Coldingliam; 3. her pilgrim’s staff taking root while she slept by the way, and bearing leaves and shoots; 4. her preservation, with her attendant virgins, on a rock surrounded by a miraculous inundation, when the king pursued her with his knights to carry her off from her monastery; 5. her instalment as abbess of Ely; 6. her death and burial; 7. a legendary tale of one Brithstan, delivered from bonds by her merits after she was canonized; 8. the translation of her body.

In the centre of the vaulting of the octagon is an aperture 30 feet wide, upon which the lantern is set. It is an exact octagon, having in each of its sides a sharp pointed window; the square-headed windows spoken of as being above these externally, are not visible within under the windows is a gallery, and under that carved panels.

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The vaulting of the ante-choir is lower than the arch which opens into it; the intervening space is adorned with open feathered tracery, but the effect is not good. Although the ante-choir is now before us, and the organ screen, we must in passing to it look to the right and left to observe a little upon the transept.

This is the most ancient portion of the Cathedral the transept have side aisles. The columns and arches are, generally speaking, like those of the nave; in each of them however there is a simple cylindrical shaft, which occurs no where else in the building. The west side aisle of the north wing is open, that to the east is divided by walls behind the columns. In the south wing both side aisles are entirely closed up. The roof of both wings is of bare rafters, painted with flowers and other devices; large figures of angels with wings expanded support the principals. The same simple mouldings occur here above the several tiers of arcades as in the nave.

Let us now contemplate the ante-choir: it is of that age when decoration was no longer confined to particular parts of the building, but scattered over the whole face of it but this is a singularly beautiful example of that style; it has a rich, light, and gay appearance; there is a magnificent display of decoration, but it cannot be said to be loaded with ornament.

The screen is an arcade of three pointed arches supported on slender clustered columns, through the middle arch is the entrance into the choir, and above the arcade is a gallery in which the organ is placed. The whole is of good gothic architecture, and agrees very well with the portion of the Cathedral with which it is connected.

We now enter the choir, which was anciently called the presbytery; it is still known by that name, although, since the removal of the choir into it, it is more usually called the choir. The original choir extended no further in a straight line than the three arches of Bishop Hotham’s work, it then became semi-circular, and so terminated; which was the form of the east end of all Norman churches.

Ely, Choir, Cathedral, England, Architecture, Gothic,
The Choir

This semi-circular termination was taken down in the year 1235 by Hugh de Northwold, the eighth bishop of Ely, and this most beautiful addition of six arches, forming the present choir, was made and finished at his expence in seventeen years. At the dedication of it in 1252, the shrines and reliques of the canonised abbesses were removed into it; Henry III. with his court were present at the ceremony, and were magnificently entertained by the bishop. It is in that style which architects have agreed to call the early English, and is a perfect example of it.

The three arches of the ante-choir, the work of Bishop Hotham, which is also by general agreement called decorated English, adjoins the work of Bishop Northwold, and the two styles being thus brought together in actual contact, the spectator has an opportunity of judging of the comparative merits of each.

By the generality of judges the choir is preferred. There is a great abundance and variety of ornament, and all of the most elegant and graceful description; but it is confined to its proper places; and not as in the other style, spread indiscriminately over the whole surface. The ante-choir dazzles and surprises the spectator, the choir delights and charms him.

The eye is so caught by the detail of the ante-choir, that the effect as a whole is lost, and the eye soon becomes tired of gazing upon mere detail; in the choir it rests with satisfaction and delight, and is never weary of beholding, and is equally fascinated by contemplating it as a whole, and by dwelling upon its various and graceful embellishments.

The superiority of this style over the other is perhaps most of all conspicuous in the vaulting, which is simple and majestic; its plain ribs diverge from their imposts, and terminate in a longitudinal midline, running from west to east, and ornamented with figures and flowers, where the springers meet it, while the ribs in the vaulting of the ante-choir cross each other continually, and spread themselves into many intricate forms, which have no meaning, and destroy the harmony of the whole.

The east end of the choir is pre-eminently beautiful: the three lower windows are of one light each, side by side, and (as was before observed, in speaking of their external appearance), of equal height, lancet-headed and lofty. The upper windows are five in number, of one light each, whose forms and proportions have been already stated; these as well as the window beneath, are, as it were, deeply recessed within corresponding arcades, formed by a profusion of mouldings, resting on slender columns, with fillets and leafy capitals; and intermixed like the mouldings of the arches with alternate rows of flowery wreaths.

The effect of these windows thus adorned is surely far better than that of one huge window filling up the whole end, which was universally adopted in the succeeding styles of Gothic architecture: and a building whose decoration is confined to certain places and within just proportions, must produce a more sublime and majestic effect than one which is equally embellished in every part. The early English style however, with all its gracefulness and elegance, had but a short reign; it was soon abandoned for another, which, however gorgeous and dazzling, is far inferior as to general effect.

Some architects acknowledging the superiority of the earlyEnglish over that which immediately succeeded it, have attempted to account for its abandonment by the supposition that it was found to be wanting in strength and solidity. This supposition, however, can hardly be supported, when it is recollected that the works in the early English style were scarcely eighty years old when the new style was universally adopted, and that they could not then exhibit any sign of weakness or decay, since the very same works are still in existence; are now very little short of six hundred years old, and in several instances, as well as in the case of the choir of Ely, have not needed any more important repairs than those which have taken place in the memory of some persons who are yet living.

The east end of the choir was indeed nearly two feet out of the perpendicular, when Mr. Essex in the year 1768, by means of screws, effectually restored it to its proper position. The timber roof was also at the same time repaired, which might have been necessary in any other style of architecture, and this is all that has been done to this portion of the Cathedral since it was erected. The true cause therefore of the abandonment of the early English style may be found in that excessive love of novelty which is inherent in human nature. The windows of the choir were once adorned with painted glass, which was of course demolished by the Puritans.

Bishop Mawson had agreed with an artist to fill them with modern stained glass; the good bishop, however, died before it was put up indeed it is said that the artist was not able to fulfil his; contract: only the figure of St. Peter and some of the armorial bearings of the prebendaries of that day were finished and put up.

Ely, Cathedral, Ground Plan, England, Architecture, Gothic,
Ground Plan

The stalls of the choir are beautiful examples of that sort of carving in wood which prevailed at the time when the ante-choir was erected. They were designed by Alan de Walsingham, the architect of the octagon. When they were removed to their present situation, they were found to be decayed in some places, but they have been so well restored, that it is impossible to discover the new from the old work. The altar screen is of modern wood work, and not very good in design, nor correct in its imitation of Gothic.

There is no bishop’s throne in the choir; the abbey having been converted into a see, and the last abbot becoming the first bishop, he kept his seat after he had changed his title and dignity, and every succeeding bishop has continued to sit in the same place side of the entrance. The prior still kept his place on the left hand side, and continued to do so when the last prior became the first dean, and every succeeding dean has occupied the same seat.

The presbytery was once filled with the monuments of bishops, priors, and deans all these have been removed, except two, that of; Bishop Gray, a flat stone (a part only of a noble monument) under the arch leading into the north aisle, and that of Cardinal de Luxemburg, archbishop of Rouen, and perpetual administrator of the diocese of Ely, which is on the south side of the altar, concealed by the screen its decayed and ruined condition is said to have prevented its removal it had been also very roughly handled by the Puritans.

Ely, Lady, Chapel, Cathedral, England, Architecture, Gothic,
The Lady Chapel

In the side aisles the slender columns, detached shafts, and lancet-headed windows of the early English style are every where to be seen; at the east end of the north aisle is Bishop Alcock’s chapel, a rich but heavy specimen of the florid, or as it is now called, the perpendicular Gothic. At the east end of the south aisle is the chapel of Bishop West, a delicate and elegant example of the latest period of the perpendicular, but not altogether free from some approach to the revived Italian style. Both these chapels are lamentably mutilated.

We will conclude our account of the interior of this Cathedral with a few remarks upon the Lady Chapel, now the church of Trinity parish, in Ely. The principal merit of this beautiful edifice is its fine proportions. The windows are large, divided into many lights, with elaborate tracery in their upper portions, especially those of the east and west ends; the vaulting and the walls are, like Bishop Hotham’s contemporary work in the ante-choir, profusely decorated in every part, and as free also as that from any heaviness of effect.

The Cathedral Church is dedicated to St. Peter and St. Etheldreda. Its interior dimensions are as follows, viz. whole length from west to east, 517 feet; breadth of nave and side aisles, 78 feet; length of transept from north to south, 179 feet 6 inches; height of the vaulting of choir, 70 feet; Lady Chapel 100 feet long, 46 broad, and 60 high.

Besides the bishop, the Cathedral establishment consists of a dean, an archdeacon, and eight prebendaries, several minor canons, singing men, choristers, vergers, and an organist.

In the time of Henry VIII the bishopric was stated to be worth £2134 18s. 6½d. per annum; the present yearly value, as returned by the late bishop to his majesty’s commissioners, is £11,105.

The bishop of Ely, besides the whole patronage of the Cathedral, except the appointment of the dean, had in the Isle abundance of patent offices at his disposal, and was vested with greater prerogatives than any other bishop in the kingdom, except Durham. By the late Act of Parliament, however, the future bishops of Ely and Durham will be shorn of all their civil honours and privileges, to the great comfort of them both, as their worldly cares will be thereby greatly diminished, and they will be able to devote themselves equally with their brethren the other bishops, more exclusively to the spiritual concerns of their dioceses.

The bishops of Ely will, however, continue to have considerable power and patronage in the University of Cambridge. They are, as such, visitors of four colleges, patrons of the mastership and one fellowship in Jesus College, choose one out of two nominated by the college to be the master of St. Peter’s College, and the fellows therein: the Bishop of Ely has also nearly one hundred livings in his gift. The dean and chapter of Ely pay a pension to the bishop of £135 7s. 3½d. The tenths also of the whole diocese were long since granted to the bishop, and are still paid to him; but the whole amount of them is somewhat less than the sum paid to him by the dean and chapter.

The original diocese of Ely consisted of all Cambridgeshire, except a small portion of it which belonged to the diocese of Norwich, as much too small as that of Lincoln was too large. As decided friends to episcopacy on the highest grounds, we rejoice that by the the same Act which relieves the Bishop of Ely from the burden of many temporal concerns, his episcopal jurisdiction will be increased, and from the same source out of which it was first taken.

The Act states, that the diocese of Ely shall be increased by the counties of Huntingdon and Bedford, in Lincoln diocese, the deaneries of Lynn and Fincham, in the county of Norfolk, and diocese of Norwich, and by the archdeaconry of Sudbury, in the county of Suffolk, and diocese of Norwich, with the exception of the deaneries of Sudbury, Stow, and Hartismere, and by that part of the county of Cambridge which is now in the diocese of Norwich.

Our limits will not allow us to give much more than a bare list of the names of the most eminent bishops who have filled this see from its foundation to the present time.

William Longchamp elected in 1189, was chancellor of England, pope’s legate, chief justiciary of England, and regent of the kingdom during the absence of Richard I. He was succeeded by Eustachius in in 1197, who was also chancellor of England. William de Kilkenny, elected in 1254, chancellor of England also. Hugh de Balsham, elected in 1257, founded St. Peter’s College, in Cambridge. He was in 1286 succeeded by John de Kirkeby, who was both chancellor and treasurer of England. In 1316 John Hotham was elected, and was also chancellor both of England and of the exchequer.

Simon Langham, elected in 1362, was treasurer and chancellor of England, and a cardinal, he was afterwards translated to Canterbury. Thomas de Arundel, elected in 1374, wr as chancellor of England, and translated first to York, and from thence to Canterbury. Lewis of Luxembourg was elected in 1438, and held this bishopric by a dispensation from the pope, being at the same time archbishop of Rouen, and a cardinal. He was succeeded by Thomas Bourchier, who was chancellor of England, and afterwards translated to Canterbury. In 1478 John Morton was elected, and became chancellor of England, and afterwards archbishop of Canterbury.

He was succeeded by John Alcock in 1486, who was also chancellor of England, and founder of Jesus College, in Cambridge. In 1534 Thomas Goodrich was elected, being the last bishop of Ely, who was chancellor of England: he was a zealous reformer, and was succeeded by one of the opposite persuasion in 1554, who had previously been bishop both of Westminster and Norwich, and was deprived under Queen Elizabeth. Matthew Wren, elected in 1638, had been previously master of St. Peter’s College, Cambridge, dean of Windsor, bishop of Hereford and of Norwich. He was a great sufferer in the Rebellion and Usurpation, but outlived both.

Francis Turner, elected in 1684, had been master of St. John’s College, Cambridge, dean of Windsor and bishop of Rochester. He was deprived, in 1690, as a nonjuror, and succeeded by Simon Patrick in 1691, who had been first dean of Peterborough, and afterwards bishop of Chichester. It was after he was translated to Ely that he begun and finished his Commentary on the Scriptures, which will make his name famous, perhaps, to the end of time.

In 1754, Mathias Mawson was elected bishop of Ely: he was a member of Corpus Christi College, in the University of Cambridge, of which society he became first a fellow, and afterwards master.

In 1734 he was offered the bishopric of Gloucester, but conceiving that Dr. Rundle (afterwards bishop of Derry) had been injuriously set aside from that see, he refused to accept it under these circumstances.

In 1738 he was appointed to Llandaff, and two years after translated to Chichester; while bishop of that see he gave the present throne in the choir of that Cathedral, and proposed to repair and embellish the whole choir, but being translated to Ely in the year 1754, he was obliged to abandon his design, in order to give himself entirely to his newly-acquired diocese.

He was a great benefactor to the Isle of Ely, by suggesting and supporting plans of roads and embankments in the fens, by which that district was essentially improved. He was also a great benefactor to the see of Ely, inasmuch as he nearly rebuilt the palace. That he was an encourager of useful learning and sound religious education, his founding twelve scholarships in his own college is a solid and ample proof, nor should it be forgotten that he both appreciated and rewarded the learning and diligence of the great historian of Ely, Mr. Bentham, with a prebendal stall in the Cathedral.

Bishop Mawson died in the year 1777, at an advanced age, and was buried in the Cathedral: he was highly esteemed and beloved in his life, and in his death as much regretted and lamented.

Source: Winkles’s architectural and picturesque illustrations of the cathedral churches of England and Wales by Benjamin Winkles, Robert Garland, Thomas Moule. London: Effingham Wilson, Royal Exchange, and Charles Tilt, Fleet Street, 1836.

Illustration, damasks, ornament


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