It’s my last few days with my niece before I leave England, and she asks me if I want to go to Ely and see the Cathedral.  It’s not far, only about half an hour from Mildenhall, and supposed to be very beautiful.  “Sure, why not?” I say.  But I was not prepared for the stunning beauty of this place.  Truly, I think it’s more awesome even than Westminster Abbey or St. Paul’s.  There’s just something about it that immediately strikes you as soon as you enter.  I think it may be that its design is simpler, cleaner and starker, so the beauty of its architecture – its soaring height – stands out even more.  I don’t know.  But the feeling it gives you is very powerful.

Ely Cathedral is one of the seven wonders of the medieval world, and it’s considered the finest example of Norman architecture anywhere.  The story of Ely begins in Saxon times with Etheldreda, the daughter of a king of East Anglia.  She remained a virgin through two marriages and left her second husband to become a nun in 672.  A year later she founded a monastery on the site of the current Cathedral.  Etheldreda died in 680 from a tumor on the neck.  The legend goes that this was a divine punishment for her vanity in wearing necklaces in her younger days, but in reality it was the result of the plague that also killed several of her nuns.  The word “tawdry” comes to us from Etheldreda’s time.  At St Audrey's Fair necklaces of silk and lace were sold – often of very inferior quality – hence the derivation of the word “tawdry” from “St Audrey”!  She became St. Etheldreda after her death and for centuries pilgrims traveled to her shrine on the site of the Cathedral.

As you enter Ely there’s a beautiful labyrinth in stonework on the floor.  If you follow it you end up walking the same distance as the height of the huge Norman tower for which the Cathedral is most famous.  Reminds me of Christopher Wren designing St. Paul’s to be the same height as the number of days in a year.  The labyrinth is intended to remind us that life has many twists and turns.

There were so many interesting epitaphs, too.  One marker made sure to point out that although the deceased claimed to be of the House of Stewart in Scotland, the falseness of the pedigree had been clearly proven and he was in fact descended from the Stywards, “keepers of the pig sties.”  Another was very moving and humorous at the same time:  “Near this place lies the body of Richard Elliston, a youth of such uncommon endowments, regular modesty, sweetness of temper, engaging behavior… all these were defeated by an unhappy death occurred by the kick of a horse.  In the 13th year of his age.”

As Amanda, Scarlett, and I wandered around the Cathedral a service began, and the sound of singing filled the air.  A choir moved toward us up the side aisle, and seeing them filled me with such awe.  I felt incredibly blessed to have been able to hear their music in that beautiful place.  It was the perfect benediction to our visit.

Ely Cathedral

The ceiling of the beautiful Norman tower

      Looking toward the nave
      from the entrance of the

PictureMe and Scarlett in Ely Cathedral

PictureAmanda, Scarlett, and me outside Ely Cathedral


08/27/2013 4:43pm

Ely Cathedral seems magical!. It reminds me a little bit of Westminster Abby. Very interesting to read about your experience here.


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