Thursday, November 24, 2011

Ely Cathedral

click photo to enlarge
The exterior of Ely Cathedral looks its best, in my opinion, from a distance of several miles as it rises above the small city on a low eminence in the flat Fenland landscape. To someone who is familiar with English cathedrals the exterior of Ely is a decided oddity, and the closer you get to it the odder it looks. A prominent west tower is common in a parish church but rare in a great church such as a cathedral, minster or abbey where the crossing tower usually dominates. The emphasis on embattled turrets rather than pinnacles is even rarer, suggesting a secular castle rather than a religious building. Ely didn't always look like it does today however. It too, like cathedrals across the land, once had a central crossing tower. But, in February 1322, the great Norman structure collapsed, probably due to the inadequacy of its foundations. In its place an octagonal lantern was erected, supported on stone, but constructed of oak, the whole structure making a bristling tower lower than the west tower and very different from the soaring culminations found elsewhere.

You may gather from this that I find the exterior of Ely lacking compared with say,York, Lincoln, Durham, Salisbury or, in fact, most other cathedrals. I do. That's not to say that it lacks interest, but for me the overall form of the building doesn't match the beauty of other major cathedrals. However, the collapse that led to the construction of the octagon produced on the interior one of the finest sights that any English cathedral can offer, one that brings distinction to the building and makes it a place worth going out of your way to see.

Today's main photograph and one of the secondary images show what your eyes behold when you pause below Ely's crossing and look up. At the top left is the painted roof of the very long Norman nave. Opposite, at the bottom right is the elaborate Gothic vaulting of the nave. The other two roofs cover the transepts. Windows fill the spaces between the eight stone piers and from the top of each of the latter spreads a fan of ribs that reach to each of the bottom edges of the octagon itself. This is painted with a ring of angels, has stellar vaulting with Christ on the centre, and the whole is ringed with stained glass that lights the space.

We made the journey to Ely on the back of a weather forecast that promised sun and cloud. The drab photograph of the west tower shows how accurate that was!

photographs and text (c) T. Boughen

Main Photo
Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 17mm
F No: f6.3
Shutter Speed: 1/20
ISO: 2500
Exposure Compensation:  -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation:N/A