Sunday, 3 June 2012

Ely Cathedral, Cambridgeshire, England


Ely Cathedral...

Ely is a relatively small town and you would wonder why such a small town would have such an enormous cathedral. Well, as the story goes, it was the town that grew around the church. The cathedral was built by Benedictine monks who had a grand church of gargantuan proportions in mind. Building started in the 11th century, and lasted a few centuries. Since then there have been many restoration projects completed as well as some plunder projects, depending on which century you're researching.

Shelagh was not into climbing up the cathedral and opted for the market which was in full swing nearby.

The stained glass is amazing


Upon arrival I was immediately overwhelmed by the hight of the ceiling, everything is on a grand scale. The long centre path leading to the altar is wide, the pews on either side are dwarfed in this voluminous building. At the cross point of the church, looking up, the huge copula, decorated with paintings of angels completes the roof structure. It's a bit dizzying at first. How, I wondered, could people have pulled this off so long ago. Legend has it that the eight massive wooden posts that form the foundation of the copula came from Scotland, and they are placed in such a way that is impossible to achieve by engineering standards of the period, let alone transporting them from Scotland to Ely. So, it must have been accomplished with some Devine assistance.

The copula, each side of the octagon has four paintings of an angel


I bought a ticket for a tour of the upper parts of the cathedral. We were a group of nine people plus our guide, a wonderful man, you know the type, history buff, full of enthusiasm and knowledge, eager to share. Up we went through narrow stairways to the outer part of the copula, from the inside of the church the walls are still vertical here, then suddenly the walkway becomes more horizontal and I realized that now I am walking on the top of the ceiling of the copula, the part leading to the paintings of the angels. When we reached the octagonal part of the copula our guide opened a tall narrow shutter and revealed on the other side of it one of the angel paintings. Every panel could be opened like that. I looked out and took a couple of pictures, one straight down to the cross point in the church, I got a bit queazy suddenly realizing where I was standing but soon I reasoned that after this many centuries nothing would happen. It is an awesome experience standing there on top of a domed ceiling, looking way down into the church from such a height. When the tour guide closed the shutter I noticed that there was a lot of graffiti scribbled on their reverse sides, "Shame about all these names on the shutters" I said. Then the guide explained that they were not just tags, they were the names of soldiers going to battle on the continent, indeed most had dates with them from the time of World War Two. There is a poem that states, "If you write your name on the back of an angel, you will return home safe and sound".

One of the eight sides of the copula

Looking down, standing on the ceiling


A few more stairs up and we came to a door leading to the steeple of the church with a walkway all around. The views were quite nice and I snapped some pictures of the Monastic buildings and country side. We were guided along the roof to some more vistas of Ely, and I could see the market where Shelagh was wandering about.

Gargoyles

Around the steeple

The Monastic buildings

Roof detail

Just a view shot


We stayed on the roof for some time enjoying the views, but then it was time to return to the start of the excursion. Once back to the bottom I looked up again at the copula, and could hardly imagine that I had been up there, kind of suspended above this granite floor.

I went to find Shelagh at the market and found her just as she received her order of chips (french fries). Obviously she shared them with me. We finalized our stay in Ely with a pint of lager in the local pub. After the pub Shelagh joined me in the cathedral for one last look and I showed her what I had been up to.

We both had a great day in Ely, Cambridgeshire, England.