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Notes on the Geography of The United Kingdom: Ely Cathedral and St. Andrew's, Isleham

We look here at mighty Ely Cathedral and at a much humbler nearby church whose ceiling shows what Ely's ceiling was, before it was covered up in the 19th Century.

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The United Kingdom: Ely Cathedral and St. Andrew's, Isleham picture 1

The cathedral is on a hill for the very good reason that Ely lies in the fens. Access was by boats until the 19th century and its railways. A concession was made in 673 to St. Etheldreda. A monastery was soon built. It had jurisdiction over the seven manors of the Isle of Ely, which were recorded in Domesday as having 40 villeins, each with 15 acres, and all together a total of 20 plow teams. The ground was so wet, however, that the major resource was the sale of eels, from which came the name Ely, originally Elge. The manorial income ceased with an act of 1836 "for the extinguishing of the secular jurisdiction of the archbishop of York and the bishop of Ely in certain liberties."

The United Kingdom: Ely Cathedral and St. Andrew's, Isleham picture 2

View from the park, formerly a vineyard. The original church was destroyed by Danes in 870, but the monastery was reestablished a century later. The present church, dedicated in 1250, was began by Simeon, a Norman abbot previously the prior at Winchester, which Ely resembles particularly with twin towers on the main axis. The same master mason worked on both.

The United Kingdom: Ely Cathedral and St. Andrew's, Isleham picture 3

The west tower and the shorter towers over the south end of the west transept. The north side of the transept was never built.

The United Kingdom: Ely Cathedral and St. Andrew's, Isleham picture 4

A view of the missing transcept, which is to say a view of the west tower from the northwest.

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From the same angle but a greater distance. The town had 400 householders in 1563, 3,000 in 1753, and 9989 in 1951. Today it is within easy commuting of Cambridge and has 15,000 residents. The old street pattern survives, although tenants have obviously changed.

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The entrance is through a galilee or vestibule, redone in the 19th Century from a much simpler form.

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Looking up into the west tower.

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Detail of arches in transept.

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Interior view of the transept's western wall, from above.

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The nave, shown here, is the oldest part of the church and was finished in 1170. The painted covering of the wooden-truss ceiling was done in 1858.

The United Kingdom: Ely Cathedral and St. Andrew's, Isleham picture 11

The nave from the east end. The proportion of pier to triforium to clerestory is 6:5:4.

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The crossing is the most arresting feature of the cathedral, with brilliant light from the octagonal lantern.

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The lantern was begun after the collapse of the original central tower in 1322 and was designed by one Master William Hurle. It rests on posts 63 feet long. The two oaks used were bought for nine pounds in 1322/3, and the lantern was finished 20 years later, in 1341. Repairs were made in 1860 by Sir Gilbert Scott.

The United Kingdom: Ely Cathedral and St. Andrew's, Isleham picture 14

Exterior view of the octagon, seen from the southwest.

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A view of the lantern and nave from a position under the choir vaulting.

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The choir, seen through the 19th Century screen that marks the original east end of the cathedral.

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Buttresses can be seen through the choir vaults.

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The presbytery, added in the 13th Century by a Bishop Hugh.

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Fan vaults over the north chantry chapel, added by a Bishop Alcock.

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Down a notch or two, we've come east a few miles to St. Andrew's church in Isleham.

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Nave.

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It's the timber roof we're here for, because it's the kind of roof that covered the nave at Ely until the 19th Century.

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A close look.


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