Only fifteen minutes up the road by train from Cambridge is one of my favorite small towns— Ely. The thing is, Ely has a big cathedral, thanks to Etheldreda founding a monastery here back in the 7th century A.D. which led to a Saxon, then Norman, then post Norman church. What we see today in Ely is a composite of various centuries of additions and subtracts, including major additions in the roof of the nave and the spectacular octagonal lantern which distinguishes this cathedral from others. But first, a bit about Ely. The name comes from two words— eel isle. Back when the fens were the fens, this spot was an island in the middle of the fens, an island next to a water source called the Ouse (cf. York) as well as the Cam, and in that water were these creatures—
The bar keep at the Cutter where Richard and I had lunch was proud of displaying this eel– 3 lbs and 7 ounces. The thing is, he said, it takes 10 years for an eel to put on a pound. So this is a 30 plus year old eel. And here in the cathedral is a representation of the eel. The story is, those who fished in the Ouse used to present the bishop of Ely with a supply of eels for his consumption…. I’ll bet he produced some electric sermons after that!
One of the great features of Ely cathedral is that the ceiling of the nave (not to be confused with the noggin of the knave who built it) tells the whole story of the Bible from Adam all the way up to the ascension of Christ….
On the roof there is much to see…. here’s my friend Richard Bauckham emerging from the tiny door that gets us onto the roof…..
These objects raise the eternal question— if there are gargoyles, why are there not garboys as well? In our next post we will examine the stained glass windows and other notable features of this beautiful and lesser known cathedral.