Asterisks link to a corresponding page of the Cathedral's official site, with photos.
I. The foundations of the existing cathedral of Ely were laid by Simeon, the first Norman abbot (1082‑1094) of the great Benedictine monastery established about the year 970 by Athelwold, Bishop of Winchester, on the site of the convent of St. Etheldreda, which had been destroyed by the Northmen (See Pt. II). Simeon, who was of noble birth, and related to the Conqueror, was the brother of Walkelin, first Norman bishop of Winchester, who also rebuilt his cathedral.
The church thus commenced by Simeon was so far completed by his successor, Abbot Richard (1100‑1107), that he was able to translate into it from the Saxon church the body of St. Etheldreda, the great patroness of the monastery; to whom, conjointly with St. Peter, the building was dedicated.1 No further record exists of p174the progress of the work until Bishop Geoffry Riddell (1174‑1189) is mentioned as having "completed the new work to its western end (usque occidentem), together with the tower nearly to the summit." Bishop Eustace (1198‑1215) built the Galilee, or western porch. Bishop Hugh de Norwold (1229‑1254) pulled down the Norman choir, and rebuilt it in seventeen years, from 1235 to 1252. In the year 1322, during the episcopate of John Hotham (1316‑1337), Abbot Simeon's central tower fell; as his brother Walkelin's at Winchester had fallen in 1107. The octagon, by which the tower was replaced, was commenced in the same year (1322), and completed in 1328: the lantern above it, begun in 1328, was finished in 1342. The western portion of Bishop Hugh's choir, which had been ruined by the fall of the tower, was rebuilt, chiefly at the expense of Bishop Hotham, who, at his death, left money for the purpose. The work was commenced in 1338. The Lady-chapel, the erection of which was mainly due to John of Wisbeach, a brother of the monastery, was commenced in 1321, and completed in 1349. Chantries at the eastern ends of the choir-aisles were built by Bishop Alcock (1486‑1500) and Bishop West (1515‑1553).
From these dates it will be seen that the cathedral contains examples of the different periods of Gothic architecture, from early Norman to late Perpendicular. The chroniclers of the abbey have recorded the exact date of nearly every portion of the building; which thus acquires the highest possible value and interest for p175the student of architecture. Nor are the examples which it affords anywhere exceeded in beauty or importance. The Galilee and eastern portion of the choir take rank among the very best works of the Early English period; whilst the octagon, the western choir, and the Lady-chapel are probably the finest examples of pure Decorated to be found in England. It should also be mentioned here, that the restoration of the cathedral, commissioned by the late Dean Peacock, and already far advanced, will, when completed, be one of the most perfect and elaborate that has anywhere been attempted. The whole is under the direction of Mr. G. G. Scott.
The church is built throughout of stone from Barnack in Northamptonshire. Purbeck marble is used extensively for interior shafts and capitals; and some of the interior mouldings and ornaments are worked in a soft white stone called "clunch," found in the neighbourhood of Ely.
II. Ely Cathedral, which measures •565 feet from the exterior of the west porch to the exterior eastern buttresses, is the longest Gothic church not only in England but in Europe; although others (as for example the cathedral of Milan) cover much more ground. Owing probably to its situation, no very important town ever rose up about the monastery. The houses which line the streets are unusually small and low; and the long ridge of the cathedral roofs with their towers and pinnacles lifts itself above them on every side. Other English cathedrals form only part of the cities in p176which they stand: here the cathedral is in fact the town; and nowhere else perhaps in England is there so complete and suggestive a picture of what a great monastery — such as Glastonbury or Melrose — must have resembled whilst its buildings were yet entire, and its church formed a landmark for all the surrounding district.
III. Leaving the exterior and the best general points of view (§ XXXIV)º for the present, we enter the cathedral by the Galilee, or western porch [Plate I], the recorded work of Bishop Eustace (1198‑1215). The main arch of entrance circumscribes two smaller ones, which spring from a central group of shafts. These subordinate arches are foliated. The space between them and the enclosing arch is filled with tracery. Above the entrance is a triplet window. The angles are supported by groups of clustered shafts, which terminate above the roof in slender turrets. The sides of the porch, north and south, are lined by four tiers of arcades, the two uppermost of which have foliated arches.
Within, the porch, which is •40 feet in length, consists of two bays, simply vaulted. The wall of each bay is divided into two stories by blind arcades, very gracefully disposed. Remark especially the excellent effect given to the lower arcade by its divisions of outer and inner arches, and by the manner in which the lines of the front shafts, which reach nearly to the ground, intersect the vaulting of the arcade against the wall behind them. The outer arches are enriched with the dog-tooth moulding. The arch, through which the cathedral is p177entered, is divided, like the arch of entrance to the porch, into two, by central shafts. The rich exterior mouldings and the leafage on the capitals of the shafts should all be noticed.
The name Galilaea, 'Galilee,' is expressly applied to this western porch by the chroniclers of Ely. It is used elsewhere, as at Lincoln and Durham, to denote similar additions, of somewhat less sacred character than the rest of the building; no doubt in allusion to "Galilee of the Gentiles." The Galilee at Durham forms a large chapel at the west end of the nave, and was appropriated to the use of women, who were not permitted to advance into the actual church of the stern St. Cuthbert. Galilees at Ely and at Lincoln may have been used for purposes of instruction, and occasionally as courts of law.
IV. Entering the cathedral, the visitor finds himself within the great west tower, through the eastern arch of which a superb view is commanded, up the nave [Plate II] beyond the arches and graceful tracery of the lantern, and beyond the rich screen, to the coloured roof of the choir and the stained glass of the distant eastern windows. When the painting of the nave roof, which is now (1861) in progress, shall have been completed, the view from this point will only be exceeded in interest by that (§ XI) from the south-west angle of the octagon.
The tower, originally the work of Bishop Geoffry Riddell (1174‑1189),2 was much altered and strengthened p178during the Perpendicular period; when the transition Norman arches were contracted by those which now exist. The zigzag moulding above marks the extent of the original arches. The work, after the erection of the upper or Decorated story of the tower (see § XXX)º had probably shewn signs of weakness; and the fall of the central tower in the preceding century no doubt led the monks to apply a remedy to this one in due time. Two tiers of arcaded galleries, the arches of which have trefoil headings, but are massive and Norman in character, run round above the pier-arches; and above, again, are three pointed windows in each side. On the west side, the lower arcade is pierced for light as well as the upper. The window over the entrance, filled with stained glass, is modern, and was inserted early in the present century.
The interior of the tower has been restored since 1845; when a floor above the lower arches was removed, and the present painted roof inserted. This was designed and executed by H. L. Styleman le Strange, Esq., of Hunstanton Hall, Norfolk.
The style of decoration is that which prevailed in east about the close of the twelfth century, when this part of the tower was completed. The subject, placed appropriately at the entrance to the church, p179is the Creation of the Universe. Stems and branches of foliage embrace and sustain five circles placed crosswise. In the upper circle toward the east, is depicted the Dextra Domini, the "Right Hand of the Lord," as the emblem of the Almighty Father. The central circle contains our Saviour in an aureole, in the act of exercising creative power. In his left hand He holds the globe of the world; and He is surrounded by the sun, moon, and stars. About Him is written the text, "I am before all things, and by Me all things exist." In the circle beneath is the Holy Dove, brooding over the waters of the newly created earth. Rays of light proceed from the Dextra Domini in a threefold manner, and embrace within their influence the other two persons of the Godhead. In the other circles are figures of cherubim and seraphim holding scrolls, on which are the words, "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth." Round the whole is the text from Revelations, ch. iv.11 — "Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created."
It was while this work was in progress in 1845 that Mr. Basevi, the architect of the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge, fell from the upper roof, and was killed on the spot. He was buried in the north choir-aisle, where a brass commemorates him.
V. Bishop Riddell's original plan embraced a western transept opening from the tower, and flanked by octagonal turrets at the angles. The north-west transept p180fell, (at what time is uncertain), and remains in a ruined condition; having not impossibly been weakened, either from the erection of the upper story of the tower, or from the subsequent insertion of the Perpendicular arches. The south-west transept has been restored. Bishop Riddell's work extends apparently as high as the clerestory; where the transition Norman arches and arcades are replaced by Early English. The upper portions of the west tower and of the transepts were possibly built during the episcopate of Bishop Riddell's successor, William Longchamp (1189‑1197). The lower stories of the south and west sides are covered with blind arcades, of which that in the centre has interlaced arches. On the east side are two circular arches, much enriched with zigzag; one of which opens to the nave-aisle, the other to the chapel of St. Catherine, which long in ruins, has lately been rebuilt, and is now used as the baptistery-chapel. This is semi-circular, and of two bays. The walls are lined with a double arcade. The stained glass of the windows is by Wilmshurst; the Baptism of our Lord after a picture by Bassano, the Saviour with little children from a well-known Overbeck. The deep colours of the Bassano have a striking effect, although the design is scarcely in keeping with the massive architecture of the chapel.
The floors of transept and chapel have been laid with alternating squares of stone and Purbeck marble, and the border of that of the chapel has been further enriched by an incised pattern filled with coloured cement. p181A modern font, of Norman character, with the evangelistic emblems on the sides, has been placed in the transept, in line with the centre of St. Catherine's Chapel. The ceiling of the transept is to be coloured in square panels.
VI. The nave, which we now enter, is throughout late Norman; and may be compared with the neighbouring Norman nave of Peterborough, which must have been in building at the same time. The nave of Ely must probably have been completed before 1174, the date of the accession of Bishop Riddell. The work is plain throughout, and differs in this respect from Peterborough; but the height of the arches, which are slightly stilted, as well as the slender shafts of the triforium and clerestory, sufficiently indicate its late character. It consists of twelve bays, alternating in design, as at Norwich; the early Norman nave of which cathedral should be compared with the late Norman of Ely and Peterborough. The arrangement of the piers at Norwich is much simpler and ruder than at Ely; where the semi-attached shafts of the more complex piers already approach the transition. The arches are recessed in three orders of plain mouldings. In the triforium above, a wide and lofty circular arch, of precisely the same character and nearly the same height as that immediately below it, comprises two smaller arches, carried by a central shaft. The triforium extends over the aisles, the walls of which have been raised, and Perpendicular windows inserted. The clerestory in each bay is formed by an arcade of three semi-circular p182arches, that in the centre being a little higher than the other two. At the back is a round-headed window. A stringcourse with billet-moulding passes along at the base of the triforium, and a plain roll above and below the clerestory. Vaulting-shafts in groups of three rise between each bay on the south side: on the north side, a single circular shaft is set on a square pilaster. The stringcourses band these shafts.
VII. The roof of the nave as originally constructed was probably finished internally with a horizontal ceiling stretched across from wall to wall, as is the case at Peterborough and St. Alban's. This was the most usual mode in Norman times, where no stone vault existed. The external form, as well as that of the transept roofs, appears, from the weatherings still existing, to have been truncated. In consequence, however, of the deviation from the original plans made by Alan de Walsingham when he erected the central lantern, it became necessary to re-construct the roof over this portion of the building; and the result was the high-pitched form which exists at the present day, internally braced with a series of interlacing timbers in such a manner as to form an irregular polygonal roof sufficiently high to surmount the newly inserted lantern-arch. This roof seems to have received p183no kind of finish until, after the painting of the tower ceiling, it was determined to extend the decoration to that of the nave, the roof of which was accordingly coated internally with boards. The paintings on the tower roof and on that of the six westernmost bays of the nave are the work of Mr. Le Strange, of Hunstanton, in Norfolk, who had spared no labour in the examination of manuscript authorities for Norman ornamentation, and of existing remains of Norman paintings in English and foreign churches. At his death in July of this year (1862), the paintings of the remaining half of the nave have been committed to Mr. Gambier Parry, of Highnam, in Gloucestershire, who is now occupied upon them. The general design of Mr. Le Strange's work was cast upon the model of the Jesse tree, which was itself to be incorporated into the work as the latter part of the history. But as the painting advanced, the introduction of large sacred subjects seemed far more desirable on so enormous a surface; and the change has accordingly been made, in accordance with Mr. Le Strange's own judgment.
The subjects of these paintings are the principal incidents of reference to our Lord, from the creation of man by "the Word of God" to His final coming in glory.
The six subjects completed by Mr. Le Strange, beginning at the west end of the nave, are in the
1st bay. Creation of Adam.
2nd. The Fall of Man.
3rd. The Sacrifice of Noah.
p184 4th. Abraham and Isaac;— "God will provide Himself a Lamb."
5th. The Vision of Jacob's Ladder.
6th. The Marriage of Boaz and Ruth, from whom springs Obed the father of Jesse.
Twenty-four prophets and worthies, supporting as it were this central line, are arranged along the entire length of the roof, two in each bay, holding scrolls inscribed with their respective prophecies of the coming of our Lord. They are as follows: —
1st bay. Abraham and Jacob.
2nd. Job and Balaam.
3rd. Moses and Nathan.
4th. Jonah and Joel.
5th. Amos and Hosea.
6th. Isaiah and Micah.
In the remaining six bays the series of sacred subjects, and large figures supporting them, are proposed to be —
7th bay. Jesse; represented in the ancient manner, as lying asleep;— "There shall come forth a Rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots."
9th. The Annunciation.
10th. The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem;— "Hosanna to the Son of David."
11th. The Tomb, with the angel clothed in white sitting at the foot of it.
12th. The Majesty;— "The Son of Man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him." Matt. xxv.31.
These subjects, like those painted by Mr. Le Strange, will be supported by Prophets and Evangelists, and the figures of the persons of our Lord's genealogy.
p185 Along either side of the ceiling is a line of busts, exhibiting the generations of our Lord up to Adam, according to the Gospel of St. Luke. The series begins with the great figure of our Lord, round which is the inscription, "Being, as was supposed, the son of Joseph." Thence it runs back to the western end of the ceiling, each bust being inscribed with the name, until it arrives at "the son of Adam," where it connects itself with the central medallion of the first bay, round which is inscribed, "Which was the Son of God."
The evangelistic symbols are placed two at either end of the ceiling. They were prefigured by the prophet Ezekiel, and are here introduced in order to exhibit the unison of the old dispensation with that which was to follow. The date of the commencement of the painting, in 1858, is shewn at the western end by the arms of the then bishop and dean. The year of its completion will be marked by a similar record at the eastern end.
In the present state of the cathedral the ceiling suffers much from the quantity of raw light which streams through the clerestory windows, and from the coldness produced by the uncoloured south of the walls and arches. It has been determined, however, to proceed with the colouring of the walls as soon as possible: and other improvements will no doubt follow.
VIII. The vaulting of the nave-aisles is carried, as at Norwich and Peterborough, from wall-shafts between the windows, and semicircular shafts at the back of the piers. A wall arcade runs below the windows of both p186aisles. In the south aisle, the door in the fifth bay (counting from the west) marks the termination of the cloisters; and the wall arcade west of this door is lower than that east of it. The door itself was the prior's entrance, and is much enriched on the exterior: (see § XXXII). At the eastern end of this aisle is the monks' entrance: (see § XXXII). The view from this point down the aisle into the west transept, the wall arcades of which are alone visible, is a singular one.
The windows of the north aisle are Perpendicular insertions. Those in the south aisle have nearly all been restored to their original Norman form. Nearly all the windows in both aisles are filled with modern stained glass, by different artists, and of various degrees of merit. In the south aisle, beginning at the west end, the subjects and artists are as follows: —
1. The Creation. The Expulsion from Eden. The Offerings of Cain and Abel. (Henri and Alfred Gerente.)
2. The Ark. The Flood. Noah's Sacrifice. (Alfred Gerente.)
3. The Annunciation. The Salutation. The Nativity. (Warrington.)
4. Babel and the Confusion of Tongues. (Howes.)
5. Abraham with the Angels. Expulsion of Hagar. Blessing of Jacob. (Gibbs.)
6. Passover. Death of the First-born. Departure of Israelites. (Howes.)
7. Fall of Jericho. Passage of Jordan. Return of Spies. (Wailes.)
8. The Story of Samson. (Alfred Gerente.)
9. The Story of the Venerable Bede. (Wailes.)
p187 10. David Anointed; playing before Saul; chosen King; and reproved by Nathan. (Hardman.)
11. Judgment of Solomon. Building and Dedication of the Temple. Visit of the Queen of Sheba. (Moore.)
In the north aisle the subjects are: —
1. Adam Tilling the Ground. Cain Ploughing. Abel with Sheep. Adam and Eve discovering the body of Abel. (Cottingham.)
2. The History of Lot. (Preedy.)
3. Gideon. The Flight of the Midianites. (Ward.)
4. The History of Samuel. (Ward and Nixon.)
5. David and the Minstrels. (Oliphant, from designs by Dyce, R. A.)
6. History of Elijah. (Wailes.)
7. History of Daniel. (Lusson of Paris.)
Of these windows, many were the gifts of the artists, and others were designed as memorials for different persons connected with the cathedral.
IX. The last bay of the north aisle toward the west has been enclosed, apparently as a chapel; a pointed arch of Early English character having been built within the original Norman arch of the nave. At the west end, within a grating, is a pedestal supporting the fragment of a stone cross, which in all probability is a relic of the age of St. Etheldreda. It long served as a horse-block at Haddenham, in the Isle of Ely; and was removed to its present position by the care of Mr. Bentham, the historian of the monastery. On the pedestal is the inscription, in Roman capitals, "Lucem tuam Ovino da Deus, et requiem. Amen." "Ovini," p188or "Wini," was, as Bede tells us,3 the name of the steward and principal "house-thegn" of Etheldreda; whom he had accompanied from East Anglia about the year 652, on her first marriage with Tondberct, chief of the South Gyrvians [See Pt. II]. Winford, a manor near Haddenham, may not impossibly retain the name of Wini; who embraced the monastic life under St. Chad at Lichfield.4 The cross may perhaps have been erected by Wini himself, on land granted him by Etheldreda, or by Tondberct. At any rate, the almost pure Roman lettering may very well be of his time.
X. The great or principal transepts are the only portions of the church which contain any remains of the original Norman work of Abbot Simeon and his successor. Both transepts, which are three bays deep, have east and west aisles; and the lower story in both is early Norman (1082‑1107). The arches of this story differ from those of the nave in having plain, square-edged soffetes, without mouldings. In the north transept, the capitals of the piers on east side are somewhat more enriched than those opposite. The bays in this eastern aisle have been divided by walls into separate chapels, which now serve as vestries. On the walls of the central chapel considerable remains of Norman painting may still be seen. At the north-east angle is the entrance to the Lady-chapel: (see § XXIX). p189The triforium and clerestory on the east and west sides are late Norman, and precisely resemble those of the nave.
The north and south ends of the two transepts differ. Both have an arcade of circular arches, slightly projecting from the wall, and forming a kind of gallery or terminal aisle, which resembles, though on a different scale, the north and south aisles of the Winchester transepts, — the work of Bishop Walkelin, brother of Simeon. In the north transept this arcade is surmounted by two round-headed windows, and above, again, by two of Perpendicular character. In the south transept the arcade is more regular and open; and the wall above it is lined with a blank arcade of intersecting arches. Above, again, are two ranges of round-headed windows, and at the top a late Perpendicular window, of seven lights.
Both aisles of the south transept are enclosed. The arches of the east aisle are entirely walled up, and it now serves as the Chapter Library: (see § XXVIII). On these arches the Norman scroll-work has been restored in modern colours. The west aisle, which serves as a vestry, is divided half-way up by a low wall lined with an intersecting Norman arcade, in which is a carved oak door, brought originally from Landbeach, with devices resembling those in Bishop Alcock's chapel (§ XXIV). The Norman colouring has been restored to the vault in this aisle with good effect.
The transept roofs are of wood, and somewhat plain examples of the hammer-beam. The projecting brackets have figures of angels with opened wings. The whole p190of the roofs have been re-painted;— the angel-brackets, the main beams, and the bosses, in red, gold, and green; the boarding of the roof itself in a very effective pattern of black and white.
The whole of the windows at the north and south ends of the transepts, as well as those in the west side of the north transept, have been filled with stained glass. The designs and artists are as follows: —
In the west aisle of the same transept, the north window, the subject of which is the Prodigal Son, is by the Rev. A. Moore; the central, representing the Good Samaritan, by M. Lusson; the south, in which different parables of our Lord are displayed, is a memorial window for the Rev. A. Moore, by M. Lusson.
In the south transept, the windows of the lower tier, representing the Histories of Joseph and of Moses, are by Henri Gerente.
The east window in the second tier, representing the History of Abraham, is by Henri and Alfred Gerente; the west window, containing the History of Jacob, by Alfred Gerente. The Perpendicular window above displays six figures of the Patriarchs, with our Lord in the centre, by Howe, from designs by Preedy.
The middle window of the west aisle has been filled with a subject from the book of Jeremiah, by M. Lusson.
p191 XI. We have been describing the cathedral in due order; but the attention of the visitor will from the first have been withdrawn with difficulty from the central octagon [Plate III] — "perhaps the most beautiful and original design to be found in the whole range of Gothic architecture." The first impression here is almost bewildering, so great is the mass of details pressing for notice, so varied and unusual the many lines and levels of piers, windows, and roofs, all glowing with colour, and intersected with the most graceful and delicate tracery. There is perhaps no architectural view in Europe more striking — when seen under a good effect of light, on which all such views so greatly depend — than that across the octagon of Ely from the angle of the nave-aisles.
The Norman tower erected by Abbot Simeon had long been threatening ruin, and the monks had not ventured for some time to sing their Offices in the choir, when, on the eve of St. Ermenild (Feb. 12, 1321 O. S.), as the brethren were returning to their dormitory after attending matins in St. Catherine's Chapel, it fell, "with such a shock and with so great a tumult that it was thought an earthquake had taken place." No one was hurt, however; and the Chronicler of Ely remarks, as an especial proof of the Divine protection, that the shrines of the three sainted abbesses, Etheldreda, Sexburga, and Withburga, which stood at the eastern end of the choir, escaped without the slightest injury. Under the care of the sacrist, Alan of Walsingham, the ruins were cleared away, and the work of p192the octagon begun. This was completed, as high as the vaulting, in 1328. The vault and lantern were then commenced; but these are entirely of wood, and as it was difficult to find timber of sufficient strength, the work advanced more slowly. It was finished in 1342. The cost of the entire structure was £2,400 6s. 11d.; a sum of which it is difficult to estimate the proportional value, but which was perhaps equal to about £60,000 of our money.
Alan of Walsingham alone, "of all the architects of Northern Europe, seems to have conceived the idea of getting rid of what in fact was the bathos of the style — the narrow tall opening of the central tower, which, though possessing exaggerated height, gave neither space nor dignity to the principal feature. Accordingly, he took for his base the whole breadth of the church, north and south, including the aisles, by that of the transepts with their aisles in the opposite direction. Then, cutting off the angles of this large square, he obtained an octagon more than three times as large as the square upon which the central tower would have stood by the usual English arrangement."5 The octagon is thus formed by four larger and four smaller arches. The larger open to the nave, choir, and transepts; the smaller to the aisles of all three. At the pier angles are groups of slender shafts, from which springs a ribbed vaulting of wood. This supports the lantern, likewise octagonal in shape, but set in such a manner as to have its angles opposite the faces of the stone octagon below, p193and consisting of a series of enriched panels, eight windows above them, small shafts at the angles of which support a richly groined and bossed roof. The entire roof, above the piers of the octagon, forms "the only Gothic dome in existence, though Italian architects have done the same thing, and the method was in common use with the Byzantines."6
XII. The great eastern arch of the octagon rises above the vault of the choir; the space between which and the arch is filled with open tracery. Above the crown of each of the great arches, in the space between it and the vaulting, is a trefoil containing the seated figure of a saint.
The details of the four smaller sides of the octagon are admirable, and demand especial notice. The hood-mouldings of the principal arches rest on sculptured heads; of which those north-east probably represent Edward III and his queen, Philippa, during whose p194reign the work was completed; those south-east, Bishop Hotham and Prior Craudene, who presided over the see and the monastery at the time; and those north-west, Alan of Walsingham, the sacrist and architect, and his master of the works. The heads on the south-west arch are too much shattered to be identified. In the angle of each pier is a projecting niche, once containing a statue. These niches rise from large brackets, supported by a group of slender shafts, the capitals of which are sculptured with the story of St. Etheldreda (See § XIII). The wall above the niches panelled with tabernacle-work in three divisions, each of which contains a bracket enriched with foliage. Some carved heads here, and in the corbel-table above, should be noticed. Above, again, is a window of four lights, the arrangement of which is especially beautiful and ingenious. The window itself fills the whole bay of the vault, and is necessarily sharp pointed and narrowed toward the top. At the height of the four great octagon arches, however, an inner arch is thrown across, the space between which and the crown of the vault is filled with open tracery, corresponding to the blind tracery which covers the wall above the greater arches. A passage along the base of these windows communicates with the clerestories of nave and choir.
Three of these windows have been filled with stained glass, by Wailes. Those south-east and north-east represent the principal persons belonging to the story of St. Etheldreda. That south-west displays Edward III, Queen Philippa, Bishop Hotham, and Prior Craudene, — p195in whose time the octagon was first constructed; and Queen Victoria, the Prince Consort (in his robes as Chancellor of the University of Cambridge), Dr. Turton, Bishop, and Dr. Peacock, the late Dean, of Ely, who represent its modern restoration.
1. The marriage of Etheldreda with Egfrid of Northumbria. The figures supporting Etheldreda are apparently those of her uncle, Ethelwold, King of East Anglia, and her elder sister, Sexburga, afterwards Abbess of Ely. (Her father and mother, Anna and Hereswitha, were dead at the time of this her second marriage.) Wilfrid, the famous Bishop of Northumbria, is celebrating the marriage. The Bishop's cross and aspersorium, or holy-water sprinkler, are borne by attendant monks.
2. The dedication of St. Etheldreda in the convent of Coldinghame. The abbess, St. Ebba, aunt of King Egfrid, is support her veil. Bishop Wilfrid is blessing Etheldreda, who kneels before an altar, on which is her crown. At the back of the Abbess are attendant nuns, one of whom carries her pastoral staff.
3. The miracle at Coldeburch's Head. [See Part II.] On the rock, round which the sea is flowing, are St. Etheldreda and her two companions, Sewenna and Sevara. Egfrid and his attendants are riding round the rock, amazed at the miracle.
4. St. Etheldreda's staff bursts into leaf. [See Part II.] p196She is asleep, watched by her companions. Behind is her staff, in full leaf and bearing fruit. The sculptor has represented a medlar rather than an ash, the mystic tree of the old Saxons, into which, according to the legend, the staff developed.
5. The installation of St. Etheldreda as Abbess of Ely by Bishop Wilfrid. Remark the distinction between the crozier and the pastoral staff; one turned toward the bearer, the other outward.
6. The death and "chesting" of St. Etheldreda. The first division represents the last moments of the saint; who supports her pastoral staff in one hand, whilst Huna, her priest, lifts the consecrated host at her side. In the second division she is placed in her coffin, which Bishop Wilfrid is blessing. Weeping nuns fill the background.
7. The translation of St. Etheldreda. [See Part II.] Her sister, the Abbess Sexburga, is lifting the body, which is found uncorrupted and flexible. Bishop Wilfrid, and Kinefrid, the physician, are describing the event to three royal personages.
8. Ymma loosed from his fetters by the masses of Tunna and the intercession of St. Etheldreda. [See Part II.] The Abbesses Sexburga and Withburga also appear, and two angels attend them.
The costume of all these figures, it need hardly be said, is that of the reign of Edward III. The expressions and attitudes are good and characteristic; but the work is scarcely so refined or so imaginative as that of the earlier sculptures at Wells and Salisbury.
XIV. The vaulted roof of the octagon has been very p197effectively coloured; and the whole, including the lantern, is in progress of restoration as a memorial of the late Dean Peacock, who was the first to set on foot the general repair and decoration of the cathedral. When the nave-roof has been completed there can be no doubt that Ely will be the most magnificently restored church in Europe, and will afford one of the most perfect examples of a great mediaeval cathedral in the height of its original splendour. The colour, as far as it has yet gone, is very satisfactory. All the gloom and coldness of neglect and whitewash has disappeared; and the eye rests contentedly on the rich glass of the windows, and on the golden diapers of the roof and corbels, set forth and relieved as they are by the neutral tints of the oak choir-screen and stalls, the grey stone of the walls, and the dark marble of the Purbeck shafts and capitals.
The architectural views from the octagon are superb. That down the nave should be especially noticed, for the grandeur produced by its great length, extending beyond the tower into the west porch.
XV. As in Norwich Cathedral, and in many other conventual churches, the choir of the monks at Ely extended beyond the central tower, and after that had fallen, beyond the octagon, to the second pier of the nave. So it continued until 1770, when it was removed to the six eastern bays of the cathedral. At the commencement of the present restoration the arrangement of the choir was again altered; and it now begins at the eastern arch of the octagon, and embraces seven bays; the two easternmost, beyond them, forming the retro-choir.
p198 The choir is divided from the octagon by a very beautiful oaken screen, with gates of brass. This is entirely modern, and designed by Mr. G. G. Scott. An excellent effect is produced by the double planes of tracery in the upper divisions of the screen; the cresting of which, with its coronals of leafage, should be especially remarked. Lofty pinnacles of tabernacle-work rise on either side, above the stalls of the bishop and dean. The screen, notwithstanding its great elaboration, is sufficiently light and open to permit the use of the octagon as well as of the choir, during service.
The restoration of the choir is nearly complete; and the first impression on entering it will not readily be forgotten. Of the seven bays of which it consists, the four easternmost (as well as the two beyond, which form the retro-choir) are the work of Bishop Hugh de Norwold (1229‑1254):7 the three western bays, in which the stalls are placed, were commenced in 1338, the year after the death of Bishop Hotham, who left money toward the work; and were completed during the episcopate of Thomas de Lisle (1345‑1362). The division between the two portions is very sharply marked, not only by the difference of style, but by an ascent of two steps, and by broad shafts of stone which rise to the roof, and are in fact the original p199Norman shafts which stood at the turn of the apse terminating the choir before it was rebuilt by Bishop Hugh.8 It was found possible to retain them in the walls of the new choir; and their capitals, which are Early English, were added at the same time.
The unbroken roof, extending quite to the eastern end, resulted from the unusual position of the Lady-chapel (§ XXIX). The height •(70 feet) and the width •(35 feet within the piers) of the choir are also somewhat unusual.
XVI. The eastern portion of the choir — the Early English work of Bishop Hugh de Norwold — should first be examined. The piers are of Purbeck marble, octangular, with attached ringed shafts, the capitals of which are enriched with leafage of late Early English character. Knots of similar foliage are placed between the bases of the shafts. The arch-mouldings have the dog-tooth ornament. At the intersections are bosses of foliage, and there are large open trefoils in the spandrils. Long corbels of leafage, extending to the bosses at the intersections of the arches, carry the vaulting-shafts, which are in groups of three, ringed at the springing of the triforium arches (in a line with the capitals of the triforium shafts) and rising to the level of the clerestory, where they terminate in rich capitals of leafage. Corbels, shafts, and capitals are of Purbeck marble.
The triforium arches, above the piers, greatly resemble those below in mouldings and ornaments; and p200are subdivided by a central group of shafts. In the tympanum above is an open quatrefoil, with bunches of leafage on either side. Pointed quatrefoils also appear in the spandrils. The triforium extends backwards over the choir-aisles. Early in the fourteenth century — to all appearance shortly before the fall of the tower — the exterior walls were raised, and large windows inserted with Decorated tracery. In the two westernmost bays of Bishop Hugh's work, however, the triforium was removed altogether; and the inner arches transformed into windows, of the same character as those of the triforium eastward. It is probable that the original arrangement (which may still be seen outside the cathedral, south, where Bishop Hugh's exterior walls and window-openings remain — see § XXXII) was found to admit too little light upon St. Etheldreda's shrine, which stood immediately between these two bays.
The clerestory windows are triplets, set flush with the outer wall. An inner, open arcade rises above the triforium, thus forming a gallery. The arches toward the choir are supported by shafts of Purbeck. The roof of this Early English portion of the cathedral is simply groined. The vaulting-ribs are arranged in groups of seven. The bosses at the intersections are carved in foliage, with the exception of two toward the west, which represent a bishop seated, with crozier and mitre, and the coronation of the Virgin.
The foliage of all Bishop Hugh's work deserves careful examination. The arrangement in the corbels of the vaulting-shafts varies, and should be remarked. p201The bunches in the tympana of the triforium approach to a decided imitation of nature, and should be compared with the foliage in Walsingham's work below, where the naturalism is fully developed. The juxtaposition of the two works is throughout very instructive; and the visitor should proceed at once to examine the three western bays of the choir, before turning to the modern reredos, or to the various monuments, which will be afterwards noticed.
XVII. The three western bays were completed, as has been already mentioned, between the years 1345 and 1362 [Plate IV]. The arrangement on either side is precisely that of Bishop Hugh's work; but the superior beauty will at once be recognised. The lower arches, and those of the triforium, have square bosses of foliage attached to their mouldings in a very striking manner. (Compare these with the dog-tooth used in the earlier work.) The trefoils in the spandrils differ in form from Bishop Hugh's, and the long corbels are carved with natural oak-leaves. A low, open parapet runs along at the base of the triforium and clerestory; which latter is set back within an inner arch, opening to the choir, as in Bishop Hugh's work; but this arch is foiled, and extends over the whole space. The tracery of the triforium and of the clerestory windows is exquisitely rich and graceful. The lierne vaulting of the roof should be compared with the earlier and simpler vault east of it. Its bosses have been gilt, and the ribs coloured red and green. The corbels of the vaulting-shafts, which are of "clunch" stone, are blue, with white and gold-tipped p202leafage: the trefoils in the spandril deep-blue, powdered with golden stars. The roofs of the triforium, seen through its arches, are coloured in patterns of black, white, and red. All the clerestory windows on the south side, and one on the north, have been filled with stained glass by Wailes, displaying figures of doctors and martyrs.
The arms of the see,9 and of Bishop Hotham,10 the principal contributor toward the work, are placed in the spandrils of the first bay on the south side. A figure of St. Etheldreda may possibly have stood beneath the canopy which still remains between the first and second bays on the same side.
It is probable that these three western bays form the best example of the pure Decorated period to be found in England; and we may safely adopt Mr. Fergusson's assertion, that their details "are equal to anything in Europe for elegance and appropriateness."11
The organ, which has been entirely rebuilt by Hill,a occupies a position differing from that of any other in p203England, and projects from the triforium of the third bay on the north side. Its hanging case, a superb mass of carving, coloured and gilt, but with much of the oak-work judiciously left in its natural tint, is entirely modern, and deserves especial notice.
The stalls extend throughout this portion of the choir. All those at the back formed part of the original fittings, and have been carefully restored. They are constructed in two stages, the lower of which is recessed; and from the front rises a series of panels, with overhanging canopies. These panels are to be filled with modern sculpture in wood; the south side with subjects from the Old Testament, the north from the New. Ten panels on the south side and eight on the north have already been completed. These represent — south, The Introduction of Eve to Adam; the Fall of Man; the Expulsion; Adam and Eve at labour (tilling the ground; and spinning); Cain killing Abel; Noah building the Ark; the Deluge; the Sacrifice of Noah; the Promise to Abraham; Isaac carrying the Wood. On the north side are — The Nativity; the Presentation in the Temple; the Offering of the Kings; the Flight into Egypt; the Murder of the Innocents; our Lord Disputing with the Doctors; the Baptism; the Temptation. With the exception of the Nativity, which is by Philip, these sculptures are the work of M. Abeloos, of Louvain. All, but especially those on the south side, are excellent in expression and design. The details in other portions of these upper stalls, the exquisite leafage, the designs in the spandrils, and the figures at the foils of the p204canopies, deserve the most careful notice. The colour of the whole is unusually pleasing.
The sub-stalls are new. Their finials display angels holding musical instruments; and at their ends in the upper range is a series of small figures representing the builders of the various portions of the cathedral, from St. Etheldreda, who holds the model of a Saxon church, to Bishop Alcock, who exhibits his chapel. All were designed by Mr. J. Philip, and are not unworthy of the ancient work with which they are associated.
On the floor is a memorial brass for Bishop Hotham, entirely new; and that of Prior Craudene (or Crowden), died 1341, which has been restored. This brass has a hollow floriated cross, with a small figure of the Prior at the foot. The inscription runs, —
"Hanc aram decorat de Crauden tumba Johannis
Qui fuit hic Prior, ad bona pluria, pluribus annis.
Presulis hunc sedes elegit pontificari,
Presulis ante pedes ideo meruit tumulari."
On the death of Bishop Hotham, Prior Craudene was unanimously elected by the monks as his successor. But his election was annulled by the Pope, who appointed Simon de Montacute. Prior Craudene was buried at the feet of Bishop Hotham.
XVIII. We may now return to the eastern portion of the choir, where the altar and the reredos first claim attention. The altar is raised on five low steps, the tiles and inlaid marble of which deserve notice. The cloth in which the altar is vested, embroidered by the Misses Blencowe, is perhaps the very best modern work p205of the kind. In the centre is a figure of the Saviour. The inscription runs, "Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi dona nobis pacem. Agnus Dei miserere nobis."
The altar-screen or reredos [Plate V], designed by Mr. G. G. Scott, was the gift of John Dunn Gardner, Esq., of Chatteris in Cambridgeshire, as a memorial to his first wife. Immediately over the altar are five compartments filled with sculpture; above which rises a mass of rich tabernacle-work. The sculptures, which are in alabaster, represent — Christ's Entry into Jerusalem; Washing the Disciples' feet; the Last Supper; the Agony in the Garden; Bearing the Cross. Shafts of alabaster, round which a spiral belt is twisted, inlaid with agates and crystals on a gold ground, divide these compartments, and support the arches above. The tabernacle-work is crowded with figures of angels bearing the instruments of the Passion, and with medallion heads in relief: those on the north represent Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel; those south, the four Doctors of the Latin Church — Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine, and Gregory. Each compartment terminates in a gable, of which that in the centre is highest. In this gable is the Saviour, with Moses and Elias on either side; above is a medallion of the Annunciation; and on the highest point a figure of our Lord in Majesty. On the side gables are figures of the four Evangelists, with their emblems on the crockets. In trefoils, set in the gables, are projecting busts; those north representing Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James; those south St. John the Baptist and St. John the Divine. On p206spiral pillars between the gables are figures of Faith, Hope, and Charity, north; and of Justice, Prudence, and Fortitude, south. All the details of this very important work of modern art — in which the spirit rather than the letter of ancient examples has been followed — deserve the most careful observation. Much gold and colour has been applied to the figures, and to other portions of the sculpture, under the direction of Mr. Hudson.
XIX. Beginning on the south side of the choir, the first monument westward is that of the Bishop William of Louth (de Luda, 1290‑1298; see Part II) [Plate VI], a fine and unusual design. It consists of a lofty central arch, with smaller openings at the sides. The arches are crowned with gables, much enriched, and terminating in pinnacles and finials of leafage. On the floor beneath the central canopy is a slab with the figure of a bishop, from which the brass had disappeared. In the bases of the east and west arches are figures of the four Evangelists; in the tympanum of the central gable is the Saviour in Majesty. The monument, on the north side, should be gorgeously restored in colour and mosaics, a peculiar green having been used with advantage.
The adjoining monument, east, is that of Bishop Barnet (1366‑1373), with good quatrefoils at the sides. The brass has been destroyed. The next tomb is that of John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester — the most accomplished nobleman of his time, and one of five Englishmen mentioned by Leland (another was William Gray, Bishop of Ely), who travelled to Italy in order to become disciples of the younger Guarini, at p207Ferrara. The Earl, who had been Edward the Fourth's Constable of England, was an ardent Yorkist: and after the success of Warwick's expedition in 1470, he was found concealed in a tree in the forest of Weybridge, was tried before the Earl of Oxford, beheaded, and buried in the Tower. His two wives, whose effigies rest on either side of the Earl's, were alone buried at Ely. The monument is a fine example of late Perpendicular. It is a high altar-tomb, with a canopy of three arches, and a screen of open-work in two stages rising above it. The pendants between the arches are noticeable; as are the patterns of leafage, for the most part ivy and oak. The Earl is in armour, but wears a coronet.
In the last bay on this side has been placed the tomb of Bishop Hotham (1316‑1334); originally attached to the so‑called "shrine" which stands opposite it, and placed in the first (or eastern) bay of the Decorated portion of the choir. In front is a graceful arcade. The six iron rings inserted in the upper slab of Purbeck possibly supported the canopy of an effigy.
XX. On the north side, the monument opposite Bishop Hotham's tomb is that of Bishop Norwold (1229‑1254), much dilapidated, but of high interest. The base is modern. On it rests the effigy of the Bishop fully vested, with smaller figures and sculptures at the sides and foot. At the foot is represented the story of St. Edmund, of whose great monastery at Bury Bishop Hugh had been abbot. The King is seen tied to a tree and shot at with arrows by the Danes; on p208one side he is beheaded, on the other is the wolf of the legend, which protected the head of the royal martyr.12 On one side of the principal effigy are the figures of a king (St. Edmund), and of Bishop Hugh as abbot and monk: on the other three representations of St. Etheldreda, as queen, abbess, and nun. The two great monasteries over which Bishop Hugh had presided were thus commemorated. The shafts supporting the canopy are curiously enriched with foliage.
The next monument is the so‑called shrine of Bishop Hotham, which formerly stood in the lower part of the choir, very near the position occupied by the great p209shrine of St. Etheldreda. The shrine consists of two stories, the lower of which has open arches, the upper is enclosed. At the intersections of the upper arches are monastic heads; and in front, those of a king and queen. The work is very good, and should be remarked. The tomb of Bishop Hotham, now on the south side of the choir, formerly stood within the arches of the lower story. The upper arches were originally filled with sculpture; and on the top was a lofty 'branch' for seven great tapers. It is not impossible that the upper portion of this tomb may have served as the watching-chamber for the shrine of St. Etheldreda. It resembles in its arrangements the watching-chamber of St. Frideswide's shrine at Oxford: (see that cathedral).
Below, again, is the effigy of Bishop William de Kilkenny (1255‑1257), who died in Spain (see Part II), but whose heart was brought to Ely for interment. The effigy is a very fine and perfect specimen of Early English, with censing angels at the head. The morse or clasp of the cope should be remarked.
The last monument is that of Bishop Redman (1501‑1506) [Plate VII], with a very elaborate Perpendicular canopy. The arms of the Bishop and See, and the emblems of the Passion, are placed on shields in the upper spandrils of the canopy, on the tomb itself, and on brackets at the head of it.
XXI. We now pass into the north choir-aisle; the first three bays of which, westward, are Decorated, and of the same period as the western choir: the remaining portion is Early English, and part of Bishop Hugh's work. The distinction between the two portions p210is evident in the roof, which is rich lierne in the Decorated work, and plainly vaulted, with bosses, in the Early English — and in the Purbeck capitals of the shafts, of which the Early English are enriched with leafage, the Decorated are plain.
The aisle windows are late Early English. The screen-work at the back of the stalls, and the staircase to the organ-loft are modern. Opposite this staircase is a very rich Decorated doorway, much mutilated, through which the Lady-chapel was approached (§ XXVII).
On the floor of this aisle is the brass of the architect Basevi, who was killed by a fall from the western tower in 1845. Against the wall are the monuments of Bishop Simon Patrick (1691‑1707), displaying marble drapery with gilt fringe and tassels, cherubs, urns, and pyramids. "Pientissimus senex," runs the inscription, "placide animam Deo reddidit, 31 Maii, 1707; a. aetat. 81," — of Bishop Mawson (1754‑1771), and of Bishop Laney (1667‑1675), "facundia amabilis; acumine terribilis; eruditione auctissimusº . . . . Hunc monarchiae et hierarchiae ruinae feriebant impavidum; hunc earundem instauratio ad thronum Petroburgensem, Lincolniensem, Eliensem, extulit horrentem." The window above is filled with stained glass by Ward, as a memorial for Canon Fardell, died 1854. The subject is the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins.
At the west end of this aisle, between it and the eastern aisle of the transept, is the monument of Dean Caesar, died 1636. It has been restored, and is a good example of the time.
p211 XXII. The retro-choir, behind the altar, is part of Bishop Hugh's work, as has already been mentioned. The eastern end is filled with two tiers of windows; the lower consisting of three very long lancets, with groups of Purbeck shaft at the angles, very rich mouldings, and elongated quatrefoils in the spandrils; the upper, of five lancets, diminishing from the centre, and set back, as in the clerestory, within an arcade supported by shafts. The manner in which this arcade is made to fill the eastern end, and the consequent form of its arches, are especially noticeable. The gold and colour of the roof bosses have been carried into it with excellent effect. The windows are filled with stained glass by Wailes; representing, in the lower lights, the history of our Lord, in a series of medallions, commencing from the figure of Jesse at the bottom of the south lancet. The upper windows contain figures of the Apostles, with the Saviour in majesty at the top of the central light, and beneath, four events which occurred after the Crucifixion. These windows were the gift of Bishop Sparke, died 1836, whose kneeling figure is seen at the bottom of the north lancet. The glass is by far the best in the cathedral.
Immediately at the back of the altar-screen is a slab of rich Alexandrine mosaic, a memorial of Bishop Allen, died 1845. The work, which is very elaborate, but scarcely very beautiful, cost £1000. Here is also a monument, designed by Scott and executed by Philip, to the memory of Dr. Mill, died 1853, Canon of Ely, Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, and President of the Episcopal College, Calcutta. The monument p212consists of an altar-tomb, of alabaster and serpentine, garnished with marble mosaic and hard stones polished, bearing a recumbent effigy of Dr. Mill in his doctor's robes. The figure is in copper, and was formed by the electrotype process. At the feet are two kneeling figures — one an Oriental, the other a Cambridge, student. Between the retro-choir and the north aisle is the tomb-stone of Bishop Gray (1454‑1478), stripped of its brasses.
XXIII. At the end of the north aisle is the chapel of Bishop Alcock (1486‑1501; see Part II), designed in all probability by himself, since he was "Controller of the royal works and buildings" under Henry VII. The walls are fretted with a superb mass of tabernacle-work, which must have been wonderfully rich when crowded with figures, all of which have now disappeared. The details, however, hardly bear comparison with the better Decorated work of the choir. The roof is richly groined, with a central dependent boss. The windows, which are early Decorated, seem to have been retained by Bishop Alcock from the original termination of the aisle. The chapel is entered by doors west and south. On the north side is the Bishop's tomb, with a window at the back, containing some remains of ancient stained glass. A door opens to the small space behind the tomb, probably the Bishop's chantry, forming an arrangement very beautiful and unusual. Upon the tomb itself, and in the glass of the east window, is the Bishop's rebus or device — a cock on a globe. His shield of arms (three cocks' heads) is over the south door. The original stone altar remains at the east p213end, but raised on modern supports. Remark the curious bosses under the brackets on either side, representing ammonites projecting from their shells and biting each other. Above is placed a stone found in opening a grave near the chapel, and bearing the inscription "Johannes Alcock Eps. Elien. hanc fabricam fieri fecit 1488."
The chapel has been partly restored, and the floor laid with encaustic tiles. Against the south side is placed the tomb, with mutilated effigy, of the Cardinal de Luxemburg, Bishop of Ely (1438‑1443), an ordinary specimen.
XXIV. Opposite, at the end of the south choir-aisle, is the chapel of Bishop West (1515‑1534), the walls of which are panelled with tabernacle-work, and crowded with figures, though not to such an extent as Bishop Alcock's. In this chapel the influence of the "renaissance" is at once evident. Italian ornamentation is especially noticeable in the brackets of the lower tier of niches, and in the lower part of that over the door, which displays a figure in the costume of Francis I. The ceiling, too, is a good example of the conversion of Gothic fan-tracery into the later panelled roof, having deeply moulded ribs with pendent bosses, and panels painted with arabesques and figures of cherubs. Round the lower brackets runs the Bishop's motto, "Gratia Dei sum quod sum," which also appears over the door, on the exterior. The ornament round this door should be noticed, as well as the remains of colour. The ornaments have been white, on a blue ground. The p214original iron-work of the doors should also be remarked. The tomb of Bishop West is on the south side of the chapel, under a window which contains some fragments of old glass. The sculptured figures and ornaments have been terribly shattered, possibly in obedience to the injunctions of the Protector Somerset in 1547, for the "general purification of the churches," which ordered that "from wall and window every picture, every image commemorative of saint or prophet or apostle, was to be extirpated and put away 'so that there should remain no memory of the same.' "13 These orders were no doubt imperfectly obeyed but works so recently completed as this chapel, still fresh in colour and gilding, would at once attract attention, and were probably the first to suffer. The chapel here may be compared with that built by Bishop West in the parish church of Putney, Surrey, his birth-place.
Over Bishop West's tomb is an inscription recording the removal to this chapel, in 1771, of the bones of seven benefactors of the church of Ely, whose names are recorded in small arches beneath:— Wulstan, Archbishop of York, died 1023; Osmund, a Swedish bishop, died 1067; Alwin, bishop of Elmham, died 1021; Ednoth, bishop of Dorchester, killed by the Danes in 1016; Athelstan, bishop of Elmham, died about 996; and Britnoth, duke of Northumbria, killed in battle by the Danes 991. Bishop Osmund, who came to east from Sweden when a very aged man, remained for some time attached p215to the household of Edward the Confessor; and then ended his days at Ely. Duke Britnoth had visited the monastery before setting out to attack the Northmen on the coast of Essex, and bestowed many manors on the monks, on condition that, if he fell in battle, they should bring his body to Ely for interment, which they did. The remains of these seven benefactors were first interred in the Saxon church; and were removed to the Norman cathedral in 1154. The small coffers which contained them were afterwards placed in the north wall of the choir; where they were found when the choir was altered (see § XV) in 1770. They were then re-interred in this chapel.
At the east end of the chapel, under a window filled with stained glass by Evans (representing the four Evangelists, with St. John the Baptist in the centre), is a high tomb for Bishop Sparke; died 1836.
XXV. In its architecture the south choir-aisle precisely resembles the north. The window adjoining Bishop West's chapel is a memorial for Ashley Sparke, "qui obiit in armis Balaclavae, Oct. 25, 1854."
Under an adjoining arch is a most remarkable fragment of a monument, found in 1829 in St. Mary's Church, Ely, beneath the flooring of the nave. [Plate VIII.] An angel with wings raised above the head, bears in the folding of his robe a small naked figure (the soul) apparently of a bishop, since a crozier projects at the side. The hands of this small figure are spread open in front, thumb touching thumb. The angel wears a kind of cope, ornamented at the sides. Round his p216head is a large circular aureole with a jewelled rim; and the wings are thrown up grandly at the back, filling nearly all the upper part of the arch under the canopy. This is raised on long shafts, and shews a mass of buildings with circular arches above the head. On the inside rim is the inscription: S̃c̃sº Michael oret p' me." The slab, the lower part of which is gone, is of Purbeck marble. The work is no doubt very early Norman, and of the highest interest.
XXVI. Against the south wall are the monuments of Bishop Gunning (1675‑1684), a reclining figure in a much tumbled robe: "Vitam egit caelibem, angelicam," says the inscription;— Bishop Moore (1707‑1714), an amateur physician, as the inscription indicates: —
"Jam licet improba mors satiet se corpore Moori
Praesulis et Medici; sed nec inultus obit;" —
howling cherubs watch on either side of the monument;— Bishop Heaton (1600‑1609) in a richly figured cope, of which vestment this is perhaps the latest post-Reformation example;— Robert Steward, Esq., died 1570, reclining uncomfortably upon a helmet;— Sir Mark Steward, died 1603, a good example of armour;— the monument is coloured in red and green;— and Bishop Allen, died 1845, a robed figure, half rising, by Ternouth, and not too good.
Against the choir are the monuments of Bishop Butts (1738‑1747), with bust; and of Bishop Greene (1723‑1738).
On the floor are the matrices of many brasses which have disappeared; and two good perfect ones, the first p217for Dean Tyndall, Master of Queen's College, Cambridge, died 1615, who is represented in his robe, with a square-cut beard. The inscription runs —
"Usquequo, Domine, Usquequo. The body of the worthy and reverende praelate, Umphry Tyndall, doth here expect the coming of our Saviour.
"In presence, government, good actions, and in birth,
Grave, wise, courageous, noble was this earth.
The poore, the Church, the College, say here he lies,
A Friend, a Dean, a Master, — true, good, wise."
The other brass is that of Bishop Goodrich (1534‑1554), very interesting as an example of the episcopal vestments worn after the early Reformation. In his right hand he holds the Bible; and the great seal of England hangs below. Goodrich was made Lord Chancellor in 1551. "Magnus tandem Angliae factus Cancellarius" runs the inscription, "charior ne Principi propter singularem prudentiam, an amabilior populo propter integritatem et abstinentiam fuerat ad indicandum est perquam difficile." Observe the renaissance character of the ornaments on the chasuble and other vestments.
On a small brass plate is an inscription recording
Tyndall by birth,
Coxee by choice,
Upcher in age and for comfort."
XXVII. The Chapter Library is arranged in the east aisle of the south transept, which was long since enclosed for the purpose. The collection is principally historical and theological; but it contains nothing calling for especial notice.
p218 The iron gates of the choir-aisles are modern; very rich, and excellent in design. The flowers and cornº in the upper part of that leading into the south aisle, coloured and gilt, should be specially remarked.
XXVIII. Through a passage opening from the north-east corner of the north transept we enter the Lady-chapel, which, since the Reformation, has served as a parish church. When perfect, it was one of the most beautiful and elaborate examples of the Decorated period to be found in England; and it will still amply repay the most careful study.
The first stone of the Lady-chapel was laid on the Festival of the Annunciation, 1321, by Alan of Walsingham, architect of the octagon, who was at the time sub-prior of the monastery. The work was continued for twenty-eight years, under the superintendence of John of Wisbeach, one of the monks; who, whilst digging the foundations, found a brazen vessel full of money, with which he paid the workmen as long as it lasted.14 He received contributions also from different quarters; and the Bishop, Simon de Montacute, gave largely toward the work, — "like Simon the high-priest, the son of Onias," says the Monk of Ely, "who in his life repaired the house again, and in his days fortified the temple."15
Although John of Wisbeach superintended the work, the architect was in all probability Alan of Walsingham. The chapel is a long parallelogram of five bays, p219with five windows on either side, the tracery in which is alike. The east end is nearly filled by a large window of seven lights, the design of which is unusual, and suggests the approaching change from Decorated to Perpendicular. At the west end is another large window, differing in tracery. Both east and west windows have transoms. The roof is an elaborate lierne vault, resembling that of the Decorated portion of the choir. Between all the side windows is rich tabernacle-work with canopies, from which the figures have disappeared; and along the wall beneath runs an arcade which has been magnificent. This is formed by three arches in each bay, with projecting canopies, and spandrils above filled with sculpture. The east end has a somewhat different arrangement, with a large niche immediately over the altar, in which no doubt originally stood a figure of the Virgin. This arcade, with its brackets and canopies, deserves especial notice. The whole has been terribly shattered. The Protector's injunctions were obeyed but too well; yet much of the foliage and lesser details probably remains uninjured beneath successive coats of whitewash, and should be properly cleared and recovered.
The position of this Lady-chapel is unusual. The Lady chapel at Peterborough, of earlier date (1278), but now destroyed, was, however, similarly placed. Other examples of Lady-chapels added elsewhere than at the eastern end, occur at Oxford, Rochester, Durham, and Bristol. In nearly all these cases, the most honourable position, at the eastern end of the church, was reserved p220the shrine of the local saint, — as St. Cuthbert at Durham, and St. Etheldreda at Ely.
XXIX. A staircase in the north transept leads to the upper parts of the cathedral; the most interesting portion of which is the timber bracing of the roof of the octagon, added some time after its completion, in order to strengthen the entire work. A fine interior view, looking westward, is obtained from the passage at the base of the upper tier of windows at the east end; and a vast panorama of the fens and lowlands of Cambridgeshire, with the Ouse winding through them, is gained from the summit of the western tower.
XXX. Passing out of the cathedral by the western porch, we proceed to notice the exterior. Beyond the ruined north-west transept, the fall of which has already (§ V) been noticed, a view is obtained of the great western tower, which, as high as the stage level with the clerestory of the nave, was the work of Bishop Riddell (1174‑1189). The stages up to the commencement of the octagon are Early English; and were probably built by Bishop Riddell's successor, William Longchamp (1189‑1198). The octagon itself, with its buttressing turrets, was added during the Decorated period; and was originally crowned with a slender spire of wood, which has disappeared. The pierced openings in the parapet of the tower and in the upper part of the buttress turrets occasionally produce beautiful and unusual effects of light.
The Perpendicular windows inserted in the triforium of the nave may here be remarked; as well as the p221buttressing turrets, with their spire-like terminations, at the ends of the great transept. A portion of the north-west corner of this north transept fell in 1699; but was rebuilt, and the original stone-work carefully replaced, under the care of Sir Christopher Wren. The part rebuilt may, however, be readily traced on the exterior, though scarcely within.
The central Octagon, from whatever point it is observed, groups well with the lines of the transept and nave, and with the transept turrets. The wide under portion is flat roofed, with low turrets at the angles; between runs a pierced parapet. The very beautiful tracery of the windows in the smaller sides of the octagon should here be noticed from the exterior; as well as the arcade above, pierced with lights, for the inner roof, six in the larger sides, three in the smaller. The lantern rises in two stories, with slender buttresses at the angles. It is now (1862) in course of complete restoration, as a memorial of the late Dean Peacock; and will be surmounted, as it was originally, with a spire of wood, designed by Mr. G. G. Scott.
The East End of the cathedral itself (Bishop Hugh's work) is a grand example of Early English [Plate IX]; and rises in fine contrast with the short green turf, which closes quite up round it. Buttresses with niches and canopies rise of either side of the three tiers of windows (the uppermost of which lights the roof), the clustered shafts dividing which, with all their mouldings p222and details, will amply repay notice. Remark also the varied forms of the foiled ornaments in the spandrils and in the gable. The alterations made by Bishops Alcock and West at the extremities of the aisles may also be here observed.
Passing to the south side of the choir, remark the flying buttresses with their lofty pinnacles which unite the wall of the triforium with the clerestory. These are of Decorated character, and were no doubt added when the triforium itself was altered, early in the fourteenth century (See § XVI). The original form of the triforium p223windows may be seen in the two bays of the choir between the Decorated work and Bishop Hugh's. The change made here has already been pointed out from within (§ XVI). The eastern wall and window-openings of Bishop Hugh's triforium still remain in these two bays.
The Perpendicular window in the upper part of the south transept is curious, and should be noticed.
A passage or building connected with the cloisters seems to have existed at the south end of this transept. The Cloisters themselves stretched along under the south side of the nave, as usual. Their extent is marked by an arcade along the lower part of the wall; but the actual cloisters have long disappeared. Two Norman doorways, much enriched, open into the nave on this side of the church. That at the eastern end of the nave-aisle was the Monks' entrance, and has a trefoiled heading, with figures holding pastoral staves in the spandrils, and twisted dragons above. The foliage and mouldings, which are very rich and involved, indicate, like the heading of the doorway, its late or transitional character. The lower entrance, at the south-west angle of the cloisters, was the Prior's door, [Title] and is far more elaborate than that of the monks. In the tympanum is the Saviour within an elongated aureole, supported by angels.
p224 The curious grotesques and ornaments deserve careful notice. Both doorways may be compared with the Norman work in the lower part of the west front of Lincoln Cathedral, which is of similar character, and nearly of the same date.
The exterior of the south-west transept indicates the different dates which have already been pointed out from within; (§ V). The upper portion of the transept walls, and of the lofty octangular flanking turrets, are Early English, the lower part late Norman. Buttresses, flat in the under story, and passing first into double shafts and then into a single one, run up in the centre of each side, and divide the tiers of windows and blind arcades.
XXXII. The remains of the Conventual Buildings are extensive and interesting. The most ancient portions are a Norman crypt under part of the Prior's Lodge, and some Norman fragments in the wall stretching north of "Ely Porta" — the great gate of the monastery. The whole mass of the buildings, gray and picturesque, covers a considerable space, and suggests the great size and importance of ancient Ely.
A short distance east of the south transept are the piers and arches of the Infirmary, of late Norman date. The mouldings of the arches and all the details deserve notice. At the west end are five Early English arches, now blocked up, each of which incloses a double arch, which is again subdivided into two. In the tympanum of the outer arch is a quatrefoil. A house on the north side is said to have been that of the sacrist, Alan of Walsingham, by whom it was built.
p225 The Deanery has been constructed are the ancient Refectory, dating from the thirteenth century, and still retaining its long roof, with a foiled opening in the upper part of the west wall. The Prior's Lodge extended beyond it, west; and was built round a small quadrangle. The high windows of the prior's great hall remain in a house adjoining Prior Craudene's Chapel [Plateº X] — a small but very interesting Decorated building of four bays, founded by Prior John de Craudene, who died in 1441, and probably designed by Alan of Walsingham. The window tracery, the niches, and the ancient tiles at the altar should all be noticed [Plate XI]. The chapel has been recently restored. In one of the Canons' Houses (lately occupied by Dr. Mill) is "perhaps the most magnificent example of a fourteenth-century fireplace in England. Its detail is very elaborate, and it has four beautiful brackets, which appear to have been intended for candlesticks."16
At some distance south is "Ely Porta," the principal entrance to the monastery, built by Prior Buckton late in the fourteenth century. The room above the archways is appropriated to the use of the King's Grammar-school, founded in 1541 by Henry VIII, and placed under the control of the Dean and Chapter.
On the north side of the monastery an entrance remains beneath a tower opposite the Lady-chapel. Portions of the sacristy, and of the almonry, with some Early English vaulting, and a triplet window, adjoin this tower toward the east.
p226 XXXIII. The Bishop's Palace, west of the cathedral, dates for the most part from the time of Henry VII, of which it is a good example. The wings and hall were built by Bishop Alcock (1486‑1501), whose arms are on the front of the eastern wing. The gallery adjoining the western wing was the work of Bishop Goodrich (1534‑1554), temp. Edward VI.
In the palace is preserved the very curious "Tabula Eliensis;" a copy (which cannot be earlier than the time of Henry VII) of one which formerly hung in the great hall of the monastery. The "Tabula" represents forty Norman knights, each in company with a monk, and each having his shield of arms above him, with his name and office. The knights are said to have been placed by the Conqueror in the monastery, after the taking of the Isle of Ely: they became so friendly with the monks, that on their departure the brethren "brought them as far as Haddenham in procession, with singing;" and afterwards placed the "Tabula" in their hall for a perpetual memory of their guests. The meaning and true history of the "Tabula" are quite uncertain, and can scarcely be even guessed at. None of the monastic historians of Ely refer to it. It will be found engraved in Bentham's "History of Ely," and in Fuller's "Church History."
XXXIV. The best general view of the west front will be obtained either from the end of the lawn fronting the Bishop's palace, or from a point at the side of the lawn, about halfway down [Plate XII]. From the north-east corner of the Market-place there is a p227good view of the east end of the cathedral; and the south front of the west tower and transept rises very grandly above the road by which Ely is approached from the railroad station. A striking view of the nave and western tower may be gained from the end of the lane of houses in which are the arches of the Infirmary; (§ XXXIII). From this point the open spaces between the buttress-turrets, and the great western tower, as well as the open lancets of the turrets themselves, produce very striking effects.
Of the entire cathedral, the best general views are — from a bridge over the railway not far from the station, on the east side [Frontispiece], and that from a rising ground in the park, on the south side. The enormous length of the vast structure is well seen from here. There is an excellent distant view from Stuckney-hill, a slight rise on the Newmarket-road •about two miles from Ely. The cathedral is as completely a landmark to the whole of the fen country as is the great tower of Mechlin to the lowlands of Brabant; and its glories, thus recorded in monastic verse, are still the pride of the entire district: —
"Haec sunt Elyae, Lanterna, Capella Mariae,
Atque Molendinum, multum dans Vinea vinum.
Continent insontes, quos vallant undique pontes:
Hos ditant montes; nec desunt flumina, fontes.
Nomen ab anguillâ ducit Insula nobilis illa."
1 "Ecclesiam suam a praedecessore suo inceptam aedificavit." — Thomas Eliensis, Anglia Sacra, tom. i. p613. This may either mean that he completed the church (which was subsequently enlarged and altered); or — which is more probable — that he only completed the choir and transepts. It is certain that the nave is of much later date than the time of Abbot Richard.
2 The extent of Bishop Riddell's work is uncertain. "Novum opus usque occidentem cum turre usque ad cumulum fere perfecit." (p178)— Monach. Eliensis, ap. Wharton, Anglia Sacra, i. p631. The "novum opus" may possibly refer to the nave as well as the west transept. The upper portions of the tower and transepts are Early English, and probably the work of Bishop Riddell's successor, William Longchamp (1189‑1198).
3 Hist. Eccles., lib. IV c3.
4 The music of the angels, who came to warn St. Chad of his approaching death, was heard only by Wini. See the very curious narrative in Bede, H. E. IV.3.
5 Fergusson, Handbook of Arch., pp869, 870.
6 Fergusson, p870. The exact place of Alan of Walsingham's interment is unknown. His epitaph has been preserved, and ran thus: —
"Flos operatorum, dum vixit corpore sanus
Hic jacet ante chorum Prior en tumulatus, Alanus.
Annis bis denis vivens fuit ipse Sacrista,
Plus tribus his plenis Prior ens perfecit et ista,
Sacristariam quasi funditus aedificavit;
Mephale, Brame, etiam, huic ecclesiae cumulavit.
Pro veteri turre, quae quadam nocte cadebat,
Hanc turrim proprie quam cernitis hic faciebat;
Et plures aedes quia fecerat ipse Prioris,
Detur ei sedes coeli, pro fine laboris."
He died apparently in the year 1364.
7 Bishop Hugh's work embraced the whole of the presbytery, including the three western bays destroyed by the fall of the tower. It was seventeen years in building, and cost, according to the Hist. Eliensis, (Ang. Sac., i. p636), £5,040 18s. 8d.; a sum equalling about £120,000 at present.
8 The foundations of this apse remain; and have been traced close below the pavement of the present choir.
9 Gules, 3 ducal coronets or.
10 Barry of ten, az. and arg.; on a canton or, a martlet sable.
11 Handbook of Architecture. The architectural student will find a comparison of the following portions of Ely and Lincoln Cathedrals, which form an almost complete series, ranging from the commencement of Early English to the perfect development of Decorated, full of interest and instruction: —
Choir of Lincoln, 1186‑1200.
Nave of Lincoln, 1209‑1220.
Eastern portion of Ely choir, 1229‑1254.
Presbytery, or "Angel choir" of Lincoln, 1256‑1283.
Western bays of Ely choir, 1345‑1362.
12 This is the usual interpretation of the figures: but it seems more probable that the figure holding a short sword, above the king, is that of a protecting or avenging angel; and that the so‑called wolf is the evil spirit in animal form, inciting the Danes to the murder. It is distinctly hoofed.
13 Froude, Hist. Eng., v. p37.
14 Monach. Eliens., ap. Wharton, Anglia Sacra, i. p651.
15 Eccles. 1.1.
16 Parker's Domestic Architecture (Fourteenth Century), p277.
a The organ, which has been entirely rebuilt by Hill: since our author wrote, it has been rebuilt once more in 1908, restored in 1974, and totally overhauled in 1999‑2001. For photographs and technical details of the present organ, see this page of the Cathedral's official site.
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Page updated: 14 Apr 13