Saturday, November 20, 2010

island of eels cathedral

From Cambridge, I made a day trip to Ely. It's only about 15 minutes by train, and I might have been able to bus there. I'd been briefly in Ely a few years ago, and wanted to spend more time looking around, instead of rushing through.

Like Lincoln, Ely is in the midst of fenlands, very flat fenlands. Like Lincoln, it's a town on a hill that used to be an island. The name (pronounced Eel-ee, not Ee-ly) means Eel Island, so you can guess what the waters were full of.
Fortunately, Ely isn't nearly as steep as Lincoln, with only a bit of a climb from the railway station. The day began gray and chilly, as you can see from this photo. What you can't see is the wind, which came pouring through the cathedral doors and made me stop and push them shut again.
What you might be able to see is that the wall leading up to the cathedral has little gargoyle heads along it, some knocked off over the years, many still in place.

I had somehow forgotten that Ely Cathedral has a maze. It's Victorian (1870), not medieval, and lies just inside the entrance. The guide pamphlet suggests you use the labyrinth to concentrate your mind and consider your path in life and your way to God as you enter the house of God.
Naturally I walked it, with due concentration. This pic was taken from the centre, just before I walked out again. (I'm so glad my new camera doesn't need a flash--flashes inside a church just feel rude). I was surprised by the number of people who didn't notice the maze, but just walked over it as if it were an ordinary bit of floor.

You can perhaps see from this that the maze isn't the overused Chartres design (she said sniffily) or the standard Cretan labyrinth, but an original design by Gilbert Scott, who restored much of the cathedral in the 1800s.
Like all labyrinths, it is a long journey in a compact space, and takes more time than you would think to complete. I stopped in the centre, wondering if there would be any resonance between the maze under my feet and the maze over my spine, but no. It was a cool moment, all the same.

From the maze I went on to the Stained Glass Museum, housed in an upper gallery of the cathederal. It's a well-done small museum, with a good sampling of glass from early medieval to modern, and decent explanations of the revival and the different schools and movements. Plus dioramas of glass workshops showing the cutting, painting, firing, assembly and so on.
The only problem was that no photography was allowed inside the museum--and the catalogue pictures were small and did not include measurements! So I put my hand alongside the pieces I was interested in, as a measure, then sketched my hand beside the catalogue photo.
The pic here is from outside the museum, of the Victorian glass which fills almost all the windows now, the original glass having not made it through the centuries. While Victorian glass is not hugely appealing to me, I have to admit that it makes a brave show in the sunlight--which had appeared by then, though the day was still not warm.
And again, reason to love my new camera, as it was able to capture the light through the stained glass windows falling on this pillar.
After the Stained Glass Museum, I wanted a cup of tea, and perhaps a scone with clotted cream. I was cold. But! That morning a water main had burst, and Ely had no water. Thus no tea. Also no lavatories.
Rumour had it that the Costas had water, but rather than chase rumour about, I walked over to the Oliver Cromwell House and took the tour there, where it was warmer, being a timber-frame plastered house that might even have been stuffy on another day. Oliver Cromwell's life was represented by mannequins rocking cradles or sitting at writing desks, some with unnerving head-tilting action. Then to the Ely Museum, a cooler (stone) building that was once the gaol, and had a suitably depressing (distressing) display of mannequins chained to the wall and floor for violent crimes, and a despondent family of debtor mannequins. None of them had convincing hair, but perhaps that can't be helped.

Finding no water nor tea, I returned to the cathedral, and visited the Lady Chapel, which has an unusual modern statue of Mary, but I admit I was more stirred by the discovery in an aisle window of fragments of medieval glass, patched together into roundels. Here's a closeup of one such. The diamond quarries around it are about the length of my stretched out thumb and index finger, if that helps. The fragments look to be late 14th to late 15th century.
I also photographed the 13th or 14th c. wall paintings of the martyrdom of S. Edmund, but those aren't visually exciting unless you're already a wall painting geek, so I'll skip those here. If you are a wall painting geek, you would probably have shared my fangirl moment in Lincoln when I discovered that Eastbridge Hospital had an E. W. Tristram copy of its much faded Majesty painting--I'm not sure which I was more excited by, the original or the Tristram.

This head is one of those decorating the Prior's Door, which dates from about 1150, elaborate Romanesque carving. Very flash. I'd expect it was painted originally.
It was after 3 by then, and I was wanting my tea, so I decided to walk down to the river and see if the water main had been fixed.
Outside, I saw that the slanting light had turned the cathedral stone golden, and stopped to take even more photos. I'll spare you most of them, and only observe that the stabilising feature is a wonderful, wonderful thing. Also the larger screen, which makes it much easier to tell if a photo is blurred or out of focus.

Here's the pic I think came out best. The zoom feature is so good, and the screen so large, that I was pretty much using the camera as a telescope, to show me details I couldn't make out by eye alone.
Ely has a great collection of gargoyles. I don't know how many are restorations, but there are so many! I could probably have populated this blog post entirely with gargoyles.
However, I finally tore myself away and headed downhill.

Reaching the bottom of the hill, I found the riverside walk, and strolled along it. A couple of fishermen stood on the paved bank, and one brought in a fish as I walked past him. Ducks with bright red beaks stomped over to him, perhaps wanting their cut, or protection money. They didn't really look like law-abiding ducks.
Here's a swan and a canal boat. If I ever end up with time to spare in the UK, I want to ride on a canal boat. One of my cousins lived in one for a year or so, but that was long ago.

Alas, the restaurants and pub along the river were also closed, though the pub hoped to be open for supper soonish. But I didn't want supper on my own, just tea.
So I explored the riverside walk a bit more, and found several massive willows, any of them big enough to be the one from Willow Knot, sheltering the little cottage under its leaves. The trouble is that the massiveness just didn't seem to come across in the photos. This one is the closest to showing itself properly.


Terri-Lynne said...

oh, wow...I'm dying of envy here! So beautiful. Thank you for sharing. I especially love the willow. I want to climb into its branches and play!

batgirl said...

That's only one of the willows. They're all along the riverside walk. Think of me as the scout, and when you get to England you can pick the best places to visit from my trips ;)

Sharon Needles said...

That Romanesque head from the abbott's door is gorgeous. I'm going to see if I can reproduce it in sandstone, my latest obsession.

batgirl said...

Wow - have you posted any pics of your sculptures? I'll find the other couple of pics I took of the door and send them to you.