Ely Cathedral

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About 20 km from Cambridge lies the tiny city of Ely (pronounced “eely” and yes, there used to be a lot of eels nearby although I am not sure if that is where the name originated). Ely Cathedral is considered one of the wonders of the medieval world and is enormous and very beautiful.  It was begun during the time of  William the Conqueror, around 1089, and finished about 100 years later, save for a famous octagonal crossing (crossing, in ecclesiastical architecture, is the junction of the four arms of a cruciform (cross-shaped) church) which was finished in 1351.  As old as the cathedral is, it was built on the site of an earlier abbey established by St. Ethelreda in 673 but destroyed by the Danes a couple of hundred years later.

Unfortunately in the dissolution of the monasteries done by Henry VIII (after he took over The Church, including all the money he could grab, it seems), some of the interior features as well as medieval stained glass windows of Ely Cathedral were destroyed. Apparently the lead from the stained glass windows was valuable.  The posts where statues used to stand, and the hundreds of statues with missing heads which remain in place are a memorial of the vandalism and deliberate destruction which was orchestrated by Henry VIII’s First Minister, Thomas Cromwell.

The Lady Chapel (original alter destroyed, along with statues and paintings)

The Lady Chapel (original alter destroyed, along with statues and paintings)

Statues whose heads have been chopped off

Statues whose heads have been chopped off

Thomas Cromwell was an indirect ancestor of Oliver Cromwell, who lived about a century later and was known as “The Lord Protector” and executed King Charles I.  Oliver Cromwell lived in Ely at one time and his house in Ely is now a museum. Oliver Cromwell was responsible for closing Ely Cathedral for about 10 years and used it as a stable for his cavalry horses, so he made his own mark on the Cathedral.

If you would like to read more, here is a history posted by the current Cathedral staff:

http://www.elycathedral.org/history/the_story_cathedral.html

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