Monday, 17 August 2009

The Ship of the Fens

Before I explain the title can I just advise this is a very long post photo wise so you may wish to get a cup of tea :0) Also , don't forget to click the pics for a larger view .

When I was staying at my parents' house Ashley and I decided to visit Ely Cathedral - the family had stayed away since the admission fee was introduced some years ago , but with time on our hands, and a hankering for architecture, the time felt right . I was also intrigued to read in the paper that there is a stained glass museum on site ..... I didn't know at that point that I would be getting really close to some of the windows themselves ; high , high up near the ceiling !! (what after that post about vertigo ??)

Apparently it costs the diocese of Ely 1 million pounds a year to keep this breath-taking place of worship open - so I have no problem at all with them quite rightly asking casual visitors to contribute to its upkeep . In the past I have felt slightly uncomfortable in these devotional "spaces" but I would urge anyone - no matter their creed or background to enter here without worry , and soak in all there is to see whilst the tranquil peace , built up over centuries , soothes and calms you .

Of course you will need to look upward in here - crane your neck right back in fact to see the most awe-inspiring art and embellishment . The central body of the cathedral dates back to the 14 Hundreds , and was added to through the ages . It is easy to see why it is often referred to as "The Ship of The Fens" ; it was believed that the cathedral held its congregation much like a ship - sailing to salvation - whilst the word "nave" comes from a latin navigational word . The Fens are a vast , flat expanse of land (which had to be drained and dyked to farm it ) and Ely was known as the "isle of Ely" , even having its own docks .Imagine seeing the magnificent white and shimmering cathedral from many miles away , rising out of that landscape ! Upon entering this stone edifice those same on-lookers must have been struck dumb by the towering Norman arches (rounded ones are the oldest) , and enormous pillars .

These beautiful biblical characters were painted on to the wooden ceiling in Victorian times .

Somehow , Ashley assured me I would be fine to take the next tour of the Octagon Tower (the upper most decorated vaulting in the photo above) and before I could demur we had tickets ! I think there were 250 steps ; up to 3 different levels of the cathedral's roof . When you are standing apprehensively on the floor below the ceiling appears to be an awfully long way up in the distance !

Pinnacle of the Octagon Tower

This was the view from the first level of the roof . We wound our way up a tight , narrow staircase , after admiring some of the "second floor" windows on the inside of the building (pictures further on) . There was plenty of space either side under the arches which , way in the past , was fully used during services and I was horrified to learn from the guide that monks would continually cross the void during their prayers along planks of oak! These would have been permanently placed - also one of the first things to be smashed up during the Reformation .

I kept well to the back of the railed walk way whilst we were outside on this level . My knees did feel shaky , and my mouth was very dry ! Soon we went inside again and toiled up the ever ascending stone steps to the Angel vaulting , where the guide opened up all the panels . It made me feel peculiar when Ashley was leaning out to photograph the windows above , and the floor below . We all admired the huge , blackened oak beams which have held up the Octagon tower for more than 450 years .

The Angels were painted in the Victorian period , on huge opening panels

The very centre of the vaulting

Second outer level - view across Ely

I didn't feel nearly as affected by the (dizzying) height here , as the tower top is enclosed in a high wall . By now I was getting used to the "ants" on the ground below ! Ashley pointed out how decorative the pinnacles were - considering only a handful of people could ever have been close enough to marvel at their intricacy.

The amazingly tiny , narrow door we came through on to the leaded roof ! Opposite was the West Tower ;a tour for another day maybe ? 300+ steps up that one I believe ...

The very top of the Octagon Tower

Although we descended down those same shoulder grazing , winding steps it didn't feel as claustrophobic going down in to the dimming light for some reason . Whilst I was truly glad I hadn't wimped out on the experience - as I would have missed the spectacular sights - I was relieved to feel the floor again .
We went to the stained glass museum (set along one of the upper aisles on one side) and marvelled at the beautiful colours ; all achieved by adding different chemicals to the glass mix. The oldest on show date back , unbelievably , to 1260 . By the time we had followed the date progression of the exhibits we finished back at these oldest pieces , and we both agreed that not only were the colours equally as vibrant as later panels , but their form looked positively modernistic ; with wide , bold leading and largely geometrically cut shapes - presumably because at the time only simple shapes could be trimmed out of the glass . Unfortunately no photography was allowed in here , or I would show you the 2 windows Ashley and I felt stood out like shining , inspiring beacons of enlightenment ! Needless to say each was an androgenous angel designed by Edward Burne-Jones , of (my) beloved Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood . The colours were simply stunning ; ditto the drape of their clothing - and I would go again just to sigh in front of them ! (I hope that everyone will ignore that horrid PRB travesty on BBC at the moment .... it has absolutely nothing to do with Art !!!)

I hope that you enjoy the photos ; I had such a wonderful time looking through them all . It's time for me to close now though , so ..

T.T.F.N Ruth XX


Bearly Sane said...

Thank you for the beautiful tour Ruth...those stain glass windows are just superb. I love the architecture of all the old buildings you photograph and post here.

Bramblewood Bears said...

I throughly enjoyed your photo journey. You have a talent for photo taking! Striking. Your bears are absolutely beautiful as well!
Warmest Blessings,
Bramblewood Bears

Ruth said...

Nice to see you ladies . I passed your compliments on to Ashley :0)

I'm SO excited 'cos I'm going to Buxton Opera House this evening for a performance of Iolanthe ! Oh , if only we could take pictures there ! LOL.

Beary Hugs ,