Friday, January 11, 2008

The Octagon

click photo to enlarge
The classic English cathedral differs from its continental counterparts in a number of ways. Firstly, it usually has a square east end rather than an apse with chapels. Secondly, in profile, seen from a distance, there is less emphasis on verticality and more on horizontality. Thirdly, inside the nave and chancel the upward thrust of columns, arches and vaulting is more heavily broken by horizontal features. And fourthly, the buildings, by and large, have two west towers and a larger crossing tower. So, typical English cathedrals look like York, Durham, Lincoln or Lichfield, though some dispense with west towers entirely, and a few, like Westminster Abbey, have a very French look. However, one English cathedral doesn't fit into any of these descriptions very well at all - in fact it's a real oddity - and that is Ely.

Like some German cathedrals, Ely has a single west tower, but without the expected spire. Instead it has a castle-like top of embattled turrets. A heavy stone crossing tower is absent, and is replaced by an octagonal structure with a wooden corona (the Octagon) of the oddest profile, that appears to strive for width rather than height. The building's profile from some angles is quite military, and from others, veritably craggy. That Ely was largely complete by 1350 makes all this even odder. In fact it's hard to describe the exterior of Ely as beautiful, though it is undeniably interesting. However, the interior is absolutely wonderful - featuring a massive Norman nave and the underside of that corona.

My photograph was taken during a family visit in winter. I had no tripod, only one lens, and less time than usual to compose my image. So, I was glad for the in-body Image Stabilisation of the camera. That innovation, combined with my body braced against a wall, high ISO, and a wide aperture, allowed me to get this fairly sharp shot of the underside of the Octagon.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 11mm (22mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f2.8
Shutter Speed: 1/6
ISO: 800
Exposure Compensation: -1.3EV
Image Stabilisation: On