Towering over the flat surrounding countryside, this beautiful cathedral is nicknamed the Ship of the Fens.
Ely Cathedral is one of the most prominent cathedrals in the country and is considered to be a masterpiece of medieval architecture. Its relatively isolated location and the surrounding plain fields make it stand out in the landscape and appear even grander than it would in a built-up setting. Today, it’s a popular filming location for movies. See if you recognize the structure from movies such as The Other Boleyn Girl, The King's Speech and Elizabeth: The Golden Age.
The cathedral site originally served as a Benedictine monastery founded by the Anglo-Saxon Saint Etheldreda in 673. After the nunnery was destroyed by the Danes, the Normans constructed a church here in the late 11th century. Note the Romanesque arches that support the building’s massive walls, which were added when the church was elevated to cathedral status in 1109.
Enter the cathedral through the great West Door in the Galilee Porch, which is a characteristic typical of the Early English style of architecture. Admire the cathedral’s lofty nave, which is the fourth longest cathedral nave in England, measuring 248 feet (75 meters). Other noteworthy architectural features include the Victorian painted ceiling and the simple round Norman arches.
Be sure to see the magnificent Lantern Tower, which was constructed in 1322. Consisting of over 400 tons (365,000 kilograms) of lead and wood, the tower is a remarkable engineering achievement.
Don’t miss the 14th-century Lady Chapel, a Decorated style chapel, which retains its original charm despite suffering damage during the Reformation. Look closely at the empty niches, which once contained exquisite period statues.
Save time to see the cathedral’s museum, which explores the evolution of stained glass throughout history. With displays of stained glass windows presented in illuminated cases, the museum provides an interesting perspective on how styles of craftsmanship have changed over more than eight centuries.
A visit to the cathedral is particularly enchanting during choral services and evensongs. Sign up for a guided tour to get a rare look inside the cathedral’s towers.
Ely Cathedral is within walking distance from the train station, which has frequent connections to Cambridge. The cathedral is open daily and there is an admission fee for adults, but children can enter for free.