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Ely Cathedral


The history of Ely Cathedral dates back to 673 when Etheldreda, a Saxon Queen, founded a monastery on the site. Built on an island, Ely's name is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word "Eilig" which means the island of the eels.

Ely Cathedral was a prominent Benedictine Monastery and the second wealthiest in the country. It was closed by Henry VIII in 1540.




1. Galilee Porch and Main Entrance - Early English Gothic style



2. West Tower

Completed in the late 14th century by the addition of a belfry to the existing Norman tower



6. The Nave

Built by the Normans. Note the round Norman arches and remains of medieval decoration. Most of the stained glass in the Cathedral is Victorian, depicting different scenes from the Bible. The ceiling, also painted in Victorian times, is the work of two artists, Henry le Strange who painted the first six panels and Thomas gambier Parry who painted the last six. It shows how all of the history, starting with Adam, points to and is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.


8. Octagon

The Octagon is the glory of Ely Cathedral. In 1322 disaster struck as the Norman central tower collapsed. Alan de Walsingham, Sacrist of the monastery, created t his major engineering feat, a structure of timber, glass and lead standing on eight massive stone pillars. It draws us up to towards John of Burwell's painted carving of the risen Christ, his hand raised in blessing.


Model showing the construction of the Octagon




John of Burwell's painted carving of the risen Christ
(Courtesy of Paul Turner)


18. The Lady Chapel

The largest of its king in England is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus. Completed in 1349, it was once richly adorned with statues of saints, bright paint work and stained glass. However in 1541, after the dissolution of the monastery, its windows were smashed and sculptures removed or defaced. The headless figures still remain in the alcoves and the marks of chisels can be seen on the walls.







12. The Presbytery

Built in the 13th century to house the shrine of St. Etheldreda. Etheldreda founded the original monastery in 673. For centuries her shrine attracted pilgrims who came to offer gifts and seek help or guidance. The shrine itself was destroyed at the Reformation.



14. St. Etheldreda's Chapel

St Etheldreda (circa 630-679)
Foundress, Abbess and Queen

Etheldreda founded a double monastery on this site circa 673. Her shrine became a great focus of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages. 23rd June and 17th October are kept as major festivals in the Cathedral. The great East window tells the story of Jesus' birth, ministry, death and resurrection




St. Etheldreda


The Choir

Rebuilt in the 14th century. The choir stalls and misericords)carved seats) date from the 14th and 19th centuries.



Trinity Icon

This  copy of Andrei Rublev’s famous icon, painted around 1410 AD in Russia, depicts the three angels who visited Abraham by the Oaks of Mamre. However, it is often interpreted as an icon of the Holy Trinity; Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.

They are seated around what looks like a Communion Table. There is a great sense of stillness and peace between the figures


Bishop Richard Redman
Bishop of Ely 1501-1505

Bishop Redman was originally Abbot of Shap Abbey in Westmoreland, and later Bishop of both St. Asaph and Exeter, before coming to Ely. He worked for both Richard III and Henry VII, and probably it was a result of this service that he was awarded the See of Ely He was famous for his hospitality:

In his journey’s, through any towns where he stayed but an hour, it was his
practice to cause the Bell to be rung, that the Poor may come and
partake of his Charity, which he plentifully bestowed on them.

On his death he left most of his personal wealth to Shap Abbey, but gave 100 marks to Ely Cathedral with a request to be buried her. This is one of the few tombs in the Cathedral which has never been moved or deliberately damaged.



Bishop Peter Gunning
Bishop of Ely 1675-1684

Bishop Gunning was outspoken against Cromwell and was imprisoned for his loyalty to King Charles I. After Restoration of the Monarchy he became Master of St. John’s College, Cambridge, and was also elected Regius Professor of Divinity. The beautiful prayer “For all sorts and conditions of men”, which can be found in the Book of Common Prayer, is attributed to him.


Canon William Selwyn
Canon of Ely Cathedral 1833-1875

Canon Selwyn was a great scholar; he held the position of Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge 1855-1875, and was an amateur astronomer of some note. He was Chaplain to the Militia in Ely for whom he helped organise evening classes. He died aged 69 as a result of a fall from a horse.



The Pulpit




Mary Magdalene Recognises Jesus

This striking sculpture by David Wynne captures the moment when a distraught Mary recognises Jesus on the morning of the resurrection. The figures are so thin it is as though everything has been stripped from them except the core of their being.



Bishop William de Kilkenny
Bishop of Ely 1254-1256
Lord Chancellor of England

Bishop Kilkenny was a great benefactor to the Monastery. Matthew Paris, the famous monk of St. Albans and historian, tells us that Kilkenny was a “modest , faithful and well-learned man”. In later years he was sent as Ambassador to Spain where he died. He was buried at Sugho; only his heart is interred at Ely.




Bishop Martin Heton
Bishop of Ely 1600-1609

Bishop Heton was considered pious, and was praised for his good preaching and lavish hospitality, from which “he grew stout”! He was a successful and popular Bishop when Queen Elizabeth I had taken control of the assets of the Diocese. He appeared to manage the restoration of the Diocese without too much material loss. His Will, made shortly before his death, insisted that the funeral should be “without pomp or show”.

James I said of him “ Fat men are wont to make lean sermons; his were not lean but larded with much good learning”.




Robert Steward

Cousin of the last Prior and the first Dean of Ely (Robert Steward), this Robert Steward, is also of the same family as Elizabeth Steward, the mother of Oliver Cromwell. Died 1571. The Latin inscription translates “ Nine lustres had not passed, nor was he wed, Ere hurrying fate laid Robert Steward dead, So much, O passer-by, I’d have you know, For more to generous fame I bid you go.”




The Noah Window, by Alfred Gérente, in the nave south aisle.