Friday, 24 February 2012

Ely Cathedral

Living in a country, it can be funny thinking about how you as a nation are perceived by others on the outside.  Growing up near London, I don't remember that many snowy days.  In fact, I only remember one snowy Christmas.  Most of the time, snow was a very rare thing that just got in the way of important stuff.  Indeed, the only time I moved house happened on a day during which the removals company were unsure if the lorries could stay on the road.  And then, when we finally shut the door, the heating broke.

So the idea that people think of a romantic snowy England, all dark green or bright red painted tobbogans, holly wreaths and rosy cheeks makes me snort.  As Simone White once sang,

"Cosy rosy jolly holly folly."

But.  It's now February and a little bit of that snowy British magic entered my life.  It's probably in part being away from the South-East.  The landscape of Suffolkian long-distance flatness is something entirely alien to me.  And so seeing those massive fields snow-covered was really quite beautiful.

And one day, we decided to go to Ely to see the Cathedral.

Ely Cathedral - Cold

I've written previously about Ely Shopmobility.  They made the trip possible.

The Cathedral has dealt with the problem of how to keep itself running by opening itself up in a very official and business-like way.  You pay to enter and, if you're a sensible photographer and bring along a tripod (ahem), then you pay a tripod fee.  There's a gift shop.  They host concerts and exhibitions.  It was very much alive, and although it felt a bit funny paying to enter, I'm not sure I minded that much.  It felt right for such a massive building to be so active.

Ely Cathedral - Stairway to Heaven

One strange thing about cathedrals is the tardis effect.  I think it's the matt stone and dark windows of the outside that do it.  When you're inside with the vast vaulting and bright pin-prick colour lights of distant stained glass windows, the richness draws your eye further and gives you greater understanding of scale.  It's a space you're suddenly lost in.

Ely Cathedral - Gilt Light

I think scale's another thing that, nationally, I'm not that used to.  When I think about the US, I think of massive buildings.  The UK is, for the most part (barring castles and manors), all about small spaces.  And, indeed, my life is all about very small spaces (hence my love of macro photography).  But the cathedrals break that conservatism.  They soar and shout.  It's a kind of awe-inspiring which verges on the scary.  Think about the sheer weight of stone around you.  Forget the stone!  Think about the sheer weight of paint!  Gold leaf!  Glass!  All that combined, it's a wonder the thing doesn't sink under the earth.  But towers up into the heavens.

Ely Cathedral - Scale

The cathedral I'm most used to is Guildford cathedral - a very modern and somewhat minimalist building.  Decoration is towards the IKEA end of the spectrum.  Ely is somewhat more oppulant.  Indeed, I'd need to go back many times over to take in all the details.  Each pane of glass, each sculpture, each piece of metal work.  On and on and on, higher and higher.  I was very glad to have my telephoto lens with me if only so that I could see some detail higher up!

Ely Cathedral - Surrounded

Then we went to see the "lady chapel", only when we got there, we found that an exhibition was running.  It'd take an age to describe it, so here's a link so you can see for yourself.  The Quaker Tapestry

Ely Cathedral - Cold Glass

So there we was quite a visit and I probably only took in a single percent of all of the details.  I will be going back as soon as possible.  But hopefully on a day when I don't risk frost-bite.


  1. Exceptional interior shots, especially 'stairway to heaven'; would be a star in any portfolio. Not a 'practicing' photographer myself these days but did spend a few years at photographic college way back in the mist of time so I do know quality work when I see it.

  2. Thanks very much Chris. I was kicking myself when I realised I could have taken a tripod - although I'm pleased with 'stairway...', I know I could have done better if I'd not been hand-holding everything. Still, it's nice to have a reason to get back there soon.

  3. very very nice web,,,nice to seeing your photos outside from Flickr,,,