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.
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.
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