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Sunday, January 4, 2015

January 673 A.D. Ely Cathedral, Cambridgeshire—Founded c. 673; Destroyed by Danes 870; Refounded by Secular Canons 9th Century; Benedictine Monks, 970; Episcopal Diocesan See, 1170

January 673 A.D.  Ely Cathedral, Cambridgeshire—Founded c. 673; Destroyed by Danes 870;  Refounded by Secular Canons 9th Century; Benedictine Monks, 970; Episcopal Diocesan See, 1170; Dissolved 1539; Abbey Church of St. Peter & St. Etheldreda;  Cathedral Church Called “The Holy and Undivided Trinity”


Ely Cathedral

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Ely Cathedral
Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity
An aerial view of Ely Cathedral
Ely Cathedral is located in Cambridgeshire
Ely Cathedral
Ely Cathedral
Shown within Cambridgeshire
Years built
Nave height
Number oftowers
Tower height
66m (west tower), 52m (lantern)
Ely (since 1109)
James Garrard
David Pritchard, Canon Pastor
Alan Hargrave, Canon Missioner
Edmund Aldhouse

Ely Cathedral (in full, The Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Ely) is the principal church of the Diocese of Ely, in Cambridgeshire, England, and is the seat of the Bishop of Ely and a suffragan bishop, the Bishop of Huntingdon. It is known locally as "the ship of the Fens",[1] because of its prominent shape that towers above the surrounding flat landscape.[citation needed]




The precise siting of St Etheldreda’s original monastery is not known. It appears that the tenth-century abbey church was sited within the footprint of the present building, since in 1106, as work on the latter proceeded, it became necessary to remove St Etheldreda’s remains from the old church to the new.[2]


Overview and dimensions

Floor plan.

The ceiling of the nave and lantern, viewed from the octagon looking west

The cathedral is built from stone quarried from Barnack in Northamptonshire (bought from Peterborough Abbey, whose lands included the quarries, for 8000 eels a year), with decorative elements carved from Purbeck Marble and local clunch. The plan of the building is cruciform (cross-shaped), with an additional transept at the western end. The total length is 537 feet (163.7 m),[3] and the nave at over 75 m long (250 ft) remains one of the longest in Britain. The west tower is 66m high (215 ft). The unique Octagon 'Lantern Tower' is 23 m (74 ft) wide and is 52 m (170 ft) high. Internally, from the floor to the central roof boss the lantern is 43 m (142 ft) high.

Abbot Simeon's church

The present building was started by Abbot Simeon (1081–94, brother of Walkelin, the then Bishop of Winchester, where Simeon had been Prior) in 1083 during the reign of William I.[4] The design was similar to Winchester, a cruciform plan with central crossing tower, and it was likewise one of the largest buildings under construction north of the Alps at the time.[5] Work continued under Simeon’s successor, Abbot Richard (1100–07) and thereafter under successive bishops. The Anglo-Saxon church was demolished but some of its relics, such as the shrine of St Etheldreda and the remains of other benefactors, were transferred to the new church in 1106.[2] The main transepts were one of the first parts to be built and are the earliest part now surviving. By about 1140 the nave had been completed, together with the western transepts and tower up to triforium level, where the fairly plain early Romanesque style of the earlier work gave way to a more exuberant pattern richly decorated with intersecting arches and complex mouldings. After a pause, work was resumed and the western transepts and tower were completed under Bishop Geoffrey Ridel (1174–89) in similarly ornate fashion but with pointed instead of semicircular arches.[6]

Gothic elements


A Galilee porch, where liturgical processions could gather before entering the nave, was added under Bishop Eustace (1198–1215) in the Early English Gothic style, and was possibly altered later in the thirteenth century. It was originally a two-storey structure but the upper storey was unroofed in the course of works at the beginning of the nineteenth century. . Several details of its decoration, particularly the 'syncopated arches' and the use of Purbeck marble shafts, reflect the influence of St Hugh's Choir at Lincoln Cathedral, built a few years earlier.[citation needed]

Under Bishop Northwold(1229–54) the short Norman chancel was extended eastwards by the addition of a six-bay presbytery in a richly ornamented style with extensive use of Purbeck marble. St Etheldreda’s remains were translated to a new shrine immediately east of the high altar within the new structure, and on completion of these works in 1252 the cathedral was reconsecrated in the presence of King Henry III and other dignitaries.[13]


The nave

The lady chapel

In 1321, under the sacrist Alan of Walsinghamwork began on a large (100' long by 46' wide) free-standing Lady Chapel, linked to the north aisle of the chancel by a covered walkway. This new structure was built in an exuberant 'Decorated' Gothic style. Around most of the wall surface are sedilia-like niches, flanked bypilasters of Purbeck marble and covered by sinuous ogee arches which project forward away from the wall (sometimes known as 'nodding ogees'). Most wall surfaces are covered with richly carved vegetal and diaper patterns which were originally brightlypolychromed. Extensive sculpture including a Life and Miracles of the Virgin cycle filled the spandrels between the niches.

On the night of 12–13 February 1322, possibly as a result of the lowering of the water table by preparatory works for the Lady Chapel, the Norman central crossing tower collapsed. Work on the Lady Chapel was suspended as attention transferred to dealing with this disaster. Instead of being replaced by a new tower on the same ground plan, the crossing was enlarged to an octagon, taking out the adjoining bays of the nave, chancel and transepts. The construction of this unique and distinctive feature was overseen by Alan of Walsingham.[14] The extent of his influence on the design continues to be a matter of debate. The new space, unprecedently wide in northern Europe, was spanned by an ingenious timber structure, ceiled with wooden imitation vaulting and surmounted by a glazed lantern. Extensive records of expenditure survive, including very substantial payments in 1328 for visits by one William Hurley[15], who can be confidently identified with a master carpenter of that name with a senior position in the royal service[16].

The choir

It is unclear what damage was caused to the Norman chancel by the fall of the tower, but the three remaining bays were reconstructed under Bishop John Hotham (1316-1337) in a very ornate Decorated style with flowing tracery. Structural evidence shows that this work was a remodelling rather than a total rebuilding.[17] New choirstalls with carved misericords and canopy work were installed beneath the octagon, in a similar position to their predecessors. Work was resumed on the Lady Chapel, and the two westernmost bays of Northwold’s presbytery were adapted by unroofing the triforia so as to enhance the lighting of Etheldreda’s shrine. Starting at about the same time the remaining lancet windows of the aisles and triforia of the presbytery were gradually replaced by broad windows with flowing tracery. At the same period extensive work took place on the monastic buildings, including the construction of the elegant chapel of Prior Crauden.

In about 1400 an octagonal lantern was added to the top of the west tower, and additional arches were inserted in the western crossing to arrest movement possibly caused or exacerbated by the extra weight. Later in the fifteenth century, or very early in the sixteenth, the north-west transept collapsed.

In the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries elaborate chantry chapels were inserted in the easternmost bays of the presbytery aisles, on the north for Bishop John Alcock (1486-1500) and on the south for Bishop Nicholas West (1515–33).

Later history of the building

Peter Gunning Monument, Ely Cathedral

The rood screen viewed from the nave

Following the Dissolution nearly all the stained glass and much of the sculpture in the Cathedral were destroyed; in the Lady Chapel the free-standing statues were removed and the other carved figures were decapitated. This was almost certainly at the instigation of reformist Bishop Thomas Goodrich (1534–54) who is on record as ordering churchwardens in the diocese to suppress images.[18] Some commentators have suggested that significant destruction occurred during the Civil War and the Commonwealth[19], but most of the evidence points to there having been little imagery left to destroy by then.[20] In the 1690s a number of very fine baroque furnishings were introduced, notably a marble font, and an organ case mounted on the Romanesque pulpitum (the stone screen dividing the nave from the liturgical choir) with trumpeting angels and other embellishments.[21] In 1699 the north-west corner of the north transept collapsed and there was extensive rebuilding, closely replicating the original medieval work - a very early example of such practice. However, the works included the insertion of a fine classical doorway in the north face. The name of Sir Christopher Wren has sometimes been associated with this latter feature. In fact it was the work of Robert Grumbold who had worked with Wren on Trinity College Library in Cambridge a few years earlier.[22] Wren’s uncle Matthew Wren was Bishop from 1638 to 1667, and Sir Christopher must have been familiar with the Cathedral, but surviving documentation indicates that he was personally involved only to the extent that he was among a number of people with whom the Dean (John Lambe 1693-1708) discussed the proposed works during a visit to London.[23]

The high altar

The south aisle of the nave looking west

By the middle of the eighteenth century a number of structural problems had become apparent. The architect James Essex carried out major works between 1757 and 1770, including repairs and alterations to the timber structure of the octagon, redesigning the exterior of the lantern in “gothick” style, re-roofing the entire eastern arm and righting the eastern gable which was leaning outwards.[24] He also re-ordered the interior, removing the Romanesque pulpitum and moving the liturgical choir to the far east end, with a new “gothick” choir screen two bays east of the octagon, surmounted by the 1690s organ case.[25] However, Essex and the overseeing Canon James Bentham were both people of strong antiquarian interests and the restoration as a whole was relatively sympathetic by the standards of the period.

The next major period of restoration began in the 1840s and much of the oversight was the responsibility of Dean George Peacock (1839–58). In 1845 the architect George Basevi fell to his death in the west tower, but it appears that he was inspecting works in progress out of interest and had not been engaged professionally. George Gilbert Scott was responsible for various major works from 1847 but does not appear to have had any comprehensive brief to restore the entire building. This was his first cathedral commission. He returned the octagon lantern to a form which, to judge from pre-Essex depictions, seems to be genuinely close to the original. He again re-ordered the choir, moving the fourteenth-century stalls and the high altar two bays westwards, creating a carved wooden screen at the entrance to the choir from the octagon, and installing a lavishly carved and ornamented alabaster reredos. Various new furnishings replaced the baroque items from the 1690s. At the same period a great deal of stained glass by William Wailes and others was put in the windows of the octagon, the transepts and the eastern arm. A timber boarded ceiling was installed in the nave and painted with scenes from the Old and New Testaments, first by Henry Le Strange and then, after Le Strange’s death in 1862, completed by Thomas Gambier Parry, who also repainted the interior of the octagon.

A further major programme of structural restoration took place between 1986 and 2000 under Deans William Patterson (1984–90) and Michael Higgins (1991-2003), directed by successive Surveyors to the Fabric, initially Peter Miller and from 1994 Jane Kennedy. In 2000 a Processional Way was built, restoring the direct link between the north choir aisle and the Lady Chapel.

Religious community

Ely has been an important centre of Christian worship since the seventh century AD. Most of what is known about its history before the Norman Conquest comes from Bede's Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum [7] written early in the eighth century and from the Liber Eliensis,[8] an anonymous chronicle written at Ely some time in the twelfth century, drawing on Bede for the very early years, and covering the history of the community until the twelfth century.[citation needed] According to these sources the first Christian community here was founded by St. Æthelthryth (romanised as "Etheldreda"), daughter of the Anglo-Saxon King Anna of East Anglia, who was born at Exning near Newmarket.[9] She may have acquired land at Ely from her first husband Tondberht, described by Bede as a "prince" of the South Gyrwas.[10] After the end of her second marriage to Ecgfrith, a prince of Northumbria, in 673 she set up and ruled as Abbess a dual monastery at Ely for men and for women. When she died, a shrine was built there to her memory. This monastery is recorded as having been destroyed in about 870 in the course of Danish invasions. However, while the lay settlement of the time would have been a minor one, it is likely that a church survived there until its refoundation in the 10th century.[11] The history of the religious community during that period is unclear, but accounts of the refoundation in the tenth century [12] suggest that there had been an establishment of secular priests.

In the course of the revival of the English church under Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Aethelwold, Bishop of Winchester, a new Benedictine abbey for men was established in Ely in 970. This was one of a wave of monastic refoundations which locally included Peterborough and Ramsey.[13] Ely became one of the leading Benedictine houses in late Anglo-Saxon England. Following the Norman conquest of England in 1066 the abbey allied itself with the local resistance to Norman rule led by Hereward the Wake. The new regime having established control of the area, after the death of the abbot Thurstan, a Norman successor Theodwine was installed. In 1109 Ely attained cathedral status with the appointment of Hervey le Breton as Bishop of the new diocese which was taken out of the very large diocese of Lincoln. This involved a division of the monastic property between the bishopric and the monastery, whose establishment was reduced from 70 to 40 monks. Its status changed to that of a priory, with the bishop as titular abbot.

In 1539, during the Dissolution of the monasteries, the priory surrendered to Henry VIII’s commissioners.[14] The cathedral was refounded by royal charter in 1541 [15] with the former prior Robert Steward as Dean and the majority of the former monks as prebendaries and minor canons, supplemented by Matthew Parker, later Archbishop of Canterbury, and Richard Cox, later Bishop of Ely. With a brief interruption from 1649 to 1660 during the Commonwealth, when all cathedrals were abolished, this foundation has continued in its essentials to the twenty-first century, with a reduced number of residentiary canons now supplemented by a number of lay canons appointed under a Church Measure of 1999.[16]

As with other cathedrals, Ely’s pattern of worship centres around the Opus Dei, the daily programme of services drawing significantly on the Benedictine tradition. It also serves as the mother church of the Diocese and ministers to a substantial local congregation. At the Dissolution the veneration of St Etheldreda was suppressed, her shrine in the Cathedral was destroyed, and the dedication of the cathedral to her and St Peter was replaced by the present dedication to the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Since 1873 the practice of honouring her memory has been revived,[17] and annual festivals are celebrated, commemorating events in her life and the successive “translations” - removals of her remains to new shrines – which took place in subsequent centuries.


  • Dean – The Very Revd Mark Bonney (since 22 September 2012 installation)[18]
  • Canon Pastor – The Revd Canon David Pritchard (Pastor since mid-2008;[19] additionally Acting Dean, 2011–2012; also Vice-Dean, early 2008–30 September 2011; previously Canon Precentor, 2004–mid-2008)[20]
  • Canon Missioner – The Revd Canon Dr Alan Hargrave (Canon since 13 June 2004 installation;[20] additionally Vice Dean, 30 September 2011 – December 2012)[21][22]
  • Canon Precentor – The Revd Canon Dr James Garrard (since 29 November 2008 installation)[23]



This list is incomplete; you can help by expanding it.

·         Saint Eadnoth the Younger
·         Wulfstan II – buried in the monastery
·         Byrhtnoth – leader of Anglo-Saxon forces at the Battle of Maldon, 991.
·         Hervey le BretonBishop of Ely (1109–1131)
·         Nigel – may have been buried here
·         Geoffrey Ridel, the nineteenth Lord Chancellor of England and Bishop of Ely (1173–1189)
·         Eustace, also the twenty-third Lord Chancellor of England and Lord Keeper of the Great Seal
·         Geoffrey de Burgo, Bishop of Ely (1225–1228)
·         Hugh of Northwold, Bishop of Ely (1229–1254)
·         William of Kilkenny, Lord Chancellor of England and Bishop of Ely (1254–1256) – his heart was buried here, having died in Spain on a diplomatic mission for the king
·         Hugh de Balsham, Bishop of Ely (1256–1286)
·         John KirkbyLord High Treasurer of England and Bishop of Ely (1286–1290)
·         William of Louth, Bishop of Ely (1290–1298)
·         John Barnet, Bishop of Ely (1366-1373)
·         William Grey, Lord High Treasurer of England and Bishop of Ely (1454–1478)
·         John Alcock, Lord Chancellor of England and Bishop of Ely (1486–1500) – in the Alcock Chantry
·         Nicholas West, Bishop of Ely (1515–1534) – in a chapel he built
·         Richard Cox, Bishop of Ely (1550–1581) – is buried under choir box. (tomb was covered when they built choir box)
·         Peter Gunning, Bishop of Ely (1675–1684)
·         John Moore, Bishop of Ely (1707–1714)
·         William Fleetwood, Bishop of Ely (1714–1723)
·         Robert Butts, Bishop of Ely (1738–1748)
·         Matthias Mawson, Bishop of Ely (1754–1771)
·         Edmund Keene, Bishop of Ely (1771–1781) – in West's Chapel (his wife, Mary, was buried in the south side of the choir)
·         James Woodford, Bishop of Ely (1873–1885) – in Bishop Wren's chapel on the south side of the cathedral choir


The organ



Notable organists at Ely Cathedral have included the composers Basil Harwood andArthur Wills.

Stained Glass Museum

The south triforium is home to the Stained Glass Museum, a collection of stained glassfrom the 13th century to the present that is of national importance and includes works from notable contemporary artists including Ervin Bossanyi.[citation needed]

In popular culture

  • A number of John Rutter's choral albums feature the cathedral, a reference to early recordings of his music being performed and recorded in the Lady chapel.

  • Direct references to the cathedral appear in the children's book Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce. A full-length movie with the same title was released in 1999.

  • Parts of Marcus Sedgwick's 2000 novel Floodland take place at the cathedral after the sea has consumed the land around it turning Ely into an island.

  • Direct references to Ely Cathedral are made in Jill Dawson's novel Watch Me Disappear.

  • The film Macbeth used the cathedral for filming in February and March 2014.[26]

See also


1.     Jump up^ "History & Heritage - The Ship of the Fens". Ely Cathedral. Retrieved 2014-02-06.

2.     ^ Jump up to:a b Liber Eliensis Book II para 144

3.     Jump up^ The English Cathedral. Tatton-Brown, T. and Crook, J. ISBN 1-84330-120-2

4.     Jump up^ Liber Eliensis Book II para 118

5.     Jump up^ A History of Ely Cathedral, ed. Peter Meadows and Nigel Ramsay, Boydell Press 2003 ISBN 0 85115 945 1 Chapter 4 Architecture and sculpture in the Norman period Eric Fernie pp 95-96

6.     Jump up^ H Wharton (ed.) Anglia Sacra, sive collectio Historiarum, partim recenter scriptarum, de Archiepiscopis Angliae, a prima Fidei Christianae ad Annum MDXL, 2 vols. (London, 1691)

7.     Jump up^ English translation from the Latin A History of the English Church and People Penguin Books 1968 ISBN 0 14 044042 9

8.     Jump up^ Fairweather, Janet English translation from the Latin Liber Eliensis, a History of the Isle of Ely from the Seventh Century to the Twelfth The Boydell Press 2005 ISBN 1 84383 015 9

9.     Jump up^ For the origin of the word "tawdry", see Æthelthryth.

10.  Jump up^ Bede, Ecclesiastical History, iv, 19.

11.  Jump up^ Whitelock, D., 'The Conversion of the Eastern Danelaw', in Saga-Book of the Viking Society 12, London 1941.

12.  Jump up^ Liber Eliensis Book I para 41 to Book II para 3

13.  Jump up^ [1] Consumption and Pastoral Resources on the Early Medieval Estate, accessed 12 July 2007

14.  Jump up^ Letters Patent Henry VIII, XIV, pt 2, Nos 542, 584,XV, No 1032

15.  Jump up^ Letters Patent Henry VIII XVI no 1226 (11)

16.  Jump up^ Cathedrals Measure 1999 No 1

17.  Jump up^ Charles Merivale, St Etheldreda Festival. Summary of Proceedings with Sermons and Addresses at the Bissexcentenary Festival of St Etheldreda in Ely, October 1873 (Ely, 1873)

18.  Jump up^ "Ely Cathedral – The Installation of Canon Mark Bonney as Dean". Retrieved 2014-02-06.

19.  Jump up^ "Diocese of Ely – New Precentor at Ely Cathedral". 2008-09-07. Retrieved 2014-02-06.

21.  Jump up^ "Ely Cathedral – Acting Dean". 2011-06-17. Retrieved 2014-02-06.

23.  Jump up^ "Diocese of Ely – Installation of the Precentor". 2008-11-29. Retrieved 2014-02-06.

24.  Jump up^ Ely News Retrieved 24 April 2013

25.  Jump up^ Mila Kunis at the Cathedral Retrieved 24 April 2013

Further reading

  • W. E. Dickson. Ely Cathedral (Isbister & Co., 1897).
  • D. J. Stewart. On the architectural history of Ely cathedral (J. Van Voorst, 1868).
  • Peter Meadows and Nigel Ramsay, eds., A History of Ely Cathedral (The Boydell Press, 2003).
  • Lynne Broughton, Interpreting Ely Cathedral (Ely Cathedral Publications, 2008).
  • John Maddison, Ely Cathedral: Design and Meaning (Ely Cathedral Publications, 2000).
  • Janet Fairweather, trans., Liber Eliensis: A History of the Isle of Ely from the Seventh Century to the Twelfth Compiled by a Monk of Ely in the Twelfth Century (The Boydell Press, 2005).
  • Peter Meadows, ed., Ely: Bishops and Diocese, 1109–2009 (The Boydell Press, 2010).

External links
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ely Cathedral.

Article about the medieval stained glass in the Lady chapel

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