Ely Cathedral - Notable Cathedrals

Ely Cathedral blends Romanesque and Gothic styles.
Ely Cathedral blends Romanesque and Gothic styles.

Ely Cathedral is among the Anglican cathedrals in England. It is located in Ely, Cambridgeshire. The Ely Cathedral was granted the cathedral status in 1109. The present cathedral building was constructed from 1083 to 1375. The Ely Cathedral serves as the seat of the Bishop of Ely. The building is magnificent for its style and scale, boasting of Romanesque and Gothic styles. It is also a major tourist attraction, receiving over 200,000 visitors annually.


The present cathedral building dates back to 1083. However, in 672 Ely Abbey was established by St Etheldreda who was the daughter of East Anglican King Ann. The Abbey, at the time, comprised a community of both genders. Ely Abbey was refounded in 970 by some monks under the Benedictine rule. The church building in 970 was near the nave of the current cathedral building.

Over the next 100 years from 970, Ely Abbey became among the fastest growing Benedictine Abbeys in England. However, the Abbey had challenges with the Norman rule, with the Normans like Picot of Cambridge who took over some of the Abbey lands. In 1071, Ely was a center of focus for English resistance, leading to the Siege of Ely, with the Abbey suffering substantial fines. For Ely to survive, it had to take responsibility for initiating its own building work with the task falling on Abbot Simeon. Simeon was related to the Bishop of Winchester (Walkelin) at the time. The building works of the cathedral began in 1083, one year after the appointment of Simeon as an Abbot of Ely

Unique Features

The Ely Cathedral is constructed with stones obtained from Barnack. The decorative features were carved from Purbeck Marble. The cathedral’s plan is cross-shaped with a transept towards the western end. The building measures 537 feet long and has a nave of about 246 feet. The west tower was built to create the west front which is richly decorated with intersecting arches and complex moldings. The principal entrance to the building for visitors is the Galilee Porch, which may have been used by the monks to hold meetings with the women who were not allowed into the Abbey. The Lady Chapel, connected to the north aisle of the chancel by a covered walkway, is 100 feet long and was built in Gothic style. The Chantry Chapels are inserted in the easternmost bays of the presbytery aisles, on the north and south for Bishops John Alcock and Nicholas West respectively. Other outstanding features of the cathedral include the stained glasses and several monuments and burial sites.


The Ely Cathedral has undergone massive restoration to maintain its appearance. In 1986, several parts of the cathedral including the roof, timber, and stonework, were discovered to be at risk of collapsing or falling off. A public appeal to raise over four million pounds for the repair work was launched. The money was raised within one year, facilitating the repairs. However, more was needed to be done to preserve the building. In 1991, a ten-year program was launched to completely restore the cathedral. The Great Restoration which was to cost eight million pounds was completed in 2000. For the future of the Ely Cathedral to be secure, approximately 500,000 pounds is required every year.


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