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Visiting England, Take Time To Tour Ely Cathedral

Updated on October 18, 2011


If you are near the East Anglian city of Ely make time to visit Ely Cathedral with the largest collection of European medieval monastic buildings that are still in use.

Contact with the cathedral is via The Chapter Office at Ely Cathedral on 01353 667735


Ely Cathedral was founded as a monastery in 673AD by St Etheldreda who was a Saxon princess from East Anglia. The monastery was destroyed in 870AD by danish invaders and was re founded as a Benedictine monastery in 970AD. The existing building was started in 1081 and the monks believed that only the best was suitable to give as an offering to God. This feeling was retained throughout the ages and the development is awe inspiring by its sheer size and stonework. In 1109 Ely became a cathedral and has continued to the present day, although the monastery was closed in 1539 by Henry VIII and was not reopened in Mary's reign.

Despite being so huge it has lots of little chapels and quiet areas where you can sit quietly, pray and drift away.


This is the main entrance to the Cathedral which was built in an early english style


The west tower was built in the 13th century and extended in the late 14th century.

The photograph is taken from the meadow behind which is well worth a walk through with its established trees and parkland. There are seats if you need to rest.

The tower is 215 feet high or 65.5m which makes me marvel at how they managed to build it so high without modern cranes or construction aids


The arcading is deemed to be some of the finest Romanesque and Transitional work in England,

From here you can enter the stained glass museum which is the only museum in England dedicated to stained glass. If you wish to go in you have to purchase an extra admission ticket


The Nave was built in the 11th and 12th centuries. It is amazing and is huge. The length and the height of the nave is awe inspiring.

There are Norman rounded arches and remains of medieval decoration.

The ceiling was painted in the Victorian era and shows the ancestry of Jesus from Adam and ends with him enthroned in glory.

If you sit in the nave during a service there are speakers on the walls relaying the service as you can just see the priest in the distance. The nave measures a massive 248 ft long and has a height of 85ft! wow!


The Octagon

This is regarded as the glory of Ely Cathedral

In 1322 the Norman central tower collapsed and to replace it Alan of Walsingham had built this octagonal lantern which was a massive tribute to the skills of the medieval engineers.

The octagon is 74 ft wide and has an internal height of 142feet!


The north and south transepts are the oldest part of the cathedral and date from around 1090 AD.

The roof is from the 15th century and is adorned with flying angels.

The South Transept contains a sculpture by David Wynne which captures the moment when a distraught Mary Magdalen encounters Jesus, risen from death, on Easter morning.

North and South Transepts
North and South Transepts
Bishop Alcock's Chapel
Bishop Alcock's Chapel
Statue of St Etheldreda
Statue of St Etheldreda

The Chapels

There are a number of small chapels within the Cathedral which give you the opportunity to rest quietly and think and pray if that is you wish.

The Chapel of St. Dunstan and St. Ethelwood

This is dedicated to the two bishops who re founded the monastery in 970AD. They established a man only Benedictine monastery. The bishops had major roles within the church as Dunstan was the Archbishop of Canterbury and Ethelwood was Bishop of Winchester.

Bishop West's Chapel

This was completed around 1530 and has an elaborate Renaissance ceiling with a window by Ninian Comper

St,. Etheldreda's Chapel

This is dedicated to St. Ethledreda who founded the monastery back in 673AD. For many hundreds of years her shrine attracted pilgrims who offered gifts and came to seek advice and guidance from her. The original shrine was destroyed during the Reformation but a sculpture has been built and worshippers can light a candle and pray.

Bishop Alcock's Chapel

This was completed in 1486. The design was originally made for Worcester Cathedral but was installed at Ely. The chapel is set aside for victims of torture and abuse.

St Edmund's Chapel

There is a wall painting from the 14th century which shows the martyrdom of Edmund, King of East Anglia

St George's Chapel

This chapel commemorates the men of the Cambridgeshire Regiment who died in both of the world wars. There is a window in the North Choir Aisle which commemorates those men from Bomber command who died in the defence of their country. Again you can light a candle. There is a book of names in which the names of the dead are recorded with the date of their death.

The Lady Chapel

This is the largest chapel in England dedicated to Mary the mother of Jesus. It was finished in 1349 AD and was once richly adorned with statues of saints, bright paintwork and stained glass. In 1541 after the Dissolution the windows were smashed and sculptures removed or destroyed.


Opening times in the summer 7.00am to 7.00pm

Opening times in the winter 7.00am to 6.30pm Monday to Saturday

7:20am to 5pm Sunday

There are services every day of the week and the chapels of St Catherine's and St Dunstans are available for private prayer.

There are guided tours, just ask

There are plenty of toilets and a cafe and shop. When you have finished visiting the Cathedral why not visit the home of Oliver Cromwell which houses the tourist information centre of the Ely museum which houses a curious collection of exhibits. I watched a film on eel fishing which was very detailed. If you have more time there are some nice bars and restaurants and a selection of good shops.


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