St Etheldreda, Queen of Northumbria, founded a monastery in the centre of the fens on the Isle of Ely in 673. She remained there as abbess until she died in 679. A shrine dedicated to her was housed in the Presbytery of the present day cathedral until the dissolution of the monasteries.
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In 1081 building began at this site on the present day cathedral. It was completed in 1189 in the Romanesque style. The cathedralís most remarkable feature is the octagon, which replaced a collapsed Norman tower (1322). The octagon was designed by Alan of Walsingham. It is composed of 200 tons of lead, glass, and timber.
The cathedralís 14th century lady chapel is Englandís largest. The stained glass and statues were destroyed in the reformation. Other points of note are the painted (now faded) nave (248 feet long) ceiling, Bishopís chantry chapel, and St Ovinís cross (Saxon). The Galilee porch, where visitors usually enter, is constructed of stone and Purbeck marble from Dorset. The iron work on the doors was an 1860 addition. On the choir stall seats are 54 misericords, dating from the 14th century to Victorian times. Above the choir stalls are carved panels.
The cathedral lies inside the walls of a former Benedictine monastery, replete with medieval domestic architecture. Of note are the Porta (original entrance to the monastery), Prior Craudenís chapel, Powchers hall, the old barn, and the almonry. Kingís school is located in the buildings.
Guided tours are given on a regular basis from Easter through October. In the summer tours are offered of the octagon and west tower. The west tower is 215 feet high; the top third of the tower dates from the 14th century when it was added to the 12th century lower two-thirds.
The museum of stained glass is located in the cathedral and houses a national collection.
Teas and light lunches are served in the refectory. A restaurant is located in the Almonry, a 12th century vaulted undercroft in the cathedral grounds.
The Chapter House, The College
Ely, Cambs CB17 4DN
Tel. 0 1353 667735
Located 15 miles north of Cambridge on the A10.
Open: Summer: 7am-6.30pm; winter, Mon-Sat, 7am-6.30pm, Sun 7am-5.30pm; cathedral services on Sun 8.15 and 10.30am, 4pm; weekday services 7.30, 8 am; 12.10 pm (Thursdays and Saintsí Days) and 5.30pm
Shop at the cathedral and also in the High St at the Old Choir House.
Website: Ely Cathedral
Stained Glass Museum
The South Triforium
Open: year round, Mon-Sat, 10.30am-5pm, Sun from noon-4.30pm; closed 25/26 Dec; early closing 24 Dec
Website: Stained Glass Museum
Insider Tip: Donít miss the octagon tower and rooftop tour, given mid-March-Nov. Fascinating. The stained glass museum is worth a visit on its own.