Tuesday, October 8, 2013

England, Day 2: Ely Cathedral

As I said earlier, somehow I never considered the importance of churches in England's history. Churches were the center of village life, testimonials to important people, the repository for records of birth, marriage, and death. They were also opportunities to show off the skills of the artisans who designed the buildings, laid the stone, made the glass, and built the fine interior woodwork. Ely Cathedral was known as "The Ship of the Fens" because it dominated the surrounding low country.

 As we approached the cathedral I noticed an elderly woman bent over a grave in the churchyard. When I got closer I saw she was scrubbing the stone carefully. "Good morning," she said. "This is the grave of my husband Nigil. We were married for 33 years, and tomorrow is his birthday, so I came to see him and clean his stone." Lump in throat, I walked back to my cousins.

Ely (pronounced EElee, remember) Cathedral towers over the surrounding landscape. Built in the fenlands, the cathedral is the heart of the town of Ely, which was and still is an important market town in Cambridgeshire. The fens, my cousin John told me, are the marshlands in East Anglia that extend to sea. Ely was constructed on a small hill, protected from the surrounding wetlands.

The cathedral dates to the 11th century, built on the site of the shrine of Saint Ethelreda, who in the 6th century left her husband (King Egfrid of Northumbria) to establish a monastery for both men and women. Ethelreda had been married and widowed earlier; one of the gifts from that first husband was the tract of land to which she fled to follow her vocation. The shrine built in her honor was destroyed by the invading Norsemen in the 800's, but with the arrival of the Normans the great cathedral was begun. A statue of St. Ethelreda stands in the west wing of the cathedral, and candles can be lit there by those seeking divine guidance or assistance.

Photos of only a tiny part of the splendor of Ely:





More photos tomorrow. There is so much to see at Ely.





Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

7 comments:

Rowan said...

Lots of wonderful things in Ely aren't there? I love to see the cathedral from the train when I go to Suffolk - I don't drive down in the winter:)

momalizzie said...

Absolutely beautiful! What an enormous church...

Nance said...

I am not able to take it all in; I will have to come multiple times to re-read and look at pics. I bet your mind is still reeling . . .

Quinn said...

I had to come back and look at these pictures again - and now I have a question! How did you get that mirrored effect in the picture of the modern statue of Mary, in bright blue? I think it's in a chapel, but it looks like a reflecting pool. Gorgeous picture :)
When I visits museums and such, I am always the person who is still sitting by the same statue when the next group comes through ;)

Granny Sue said...

Queen, that was the Lady's Chapel; the church has a mirror in place so that you can look up at the ceiling and not get a crick in your neck--we saw this in King's Chapel too. Cousin John might have snapped this one for me :) Sometimes I handed my camera to him to take a few photos because he is so much better at photography than I am. I can't remember if it was here or at King's Chapel that I asked him to take the mirror photo.

Granny Sue said...

Queen, that was the Lady's Chapel; the church has a mirror in place so that you can look up at the ceiling and not get a crick in your neck--we saw this in King's Chapel too. Cousin John might have snapped this one for me :) Sometimes I handed my camera to him to take a few photos because he is so much better at photography than I am. I can't remember if it was here or at King's Chapel that I asked him to take the mirror photo.

Anonymous said...

Oh how this post grabbed my heartstrings! My daughter and son-in-law lived in Ely for six years while serving with the USAF at Lakenheath. We were fortunate to spend Christmas 2005 with them. It remains such a fond memory! We attended Christmas Eve service at Ely Cathedral, and I was moved to tears at the thought of how many families did the very same thing over centuries! How wonderful that you had the opportunity to visit your mother's homeland. I can only guess how wonderful and moving it had to be. Thank you for sharing your stories, they are a joy!

CyndyB
Kilgore, TX

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