Highly regarded by historians and architects from all over the world for its beauty and size, Ely Cathedral is the only UK building to be listed as one of the “Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages”. Visible for miles around, the Cathedral is often referred to as “The Ship of the Fens”.
The city of Ely may be small in comparison to other cities but its Cathedral is a magnificent structure with a history dating back over 1300 years. Despite its remoteness, Ely has an association with well known Kings & Saints who have shaped our history: King Canute, William the Conqueror, Hereward the Wake, Henry III, Edward III, Queen Phillipa and Oliver Cromwell.
The near-legendary founder of this Cathedral was Etheldreda, the wife of a Northumbrian king who established a monastery on the spot in 673 A.D. Etheldreda's monastery flourished for 200 years until it was destroyed by the Danes. It was re-founded as a Benedictine community in 970.
The present structure dates from 1081 and is a remarkable example of both Romanesque and Norman architecture. It was during the early part of the 12th Century the existing monastic church achieved Cathedral status and since that time there have been various additions, changes and restorations throughout the centuries.
In 1986 the “Great Restoration” began, costing over £12 million and it was completed triumphantly in 2000. The Cathedral therefore began the 21st century with confidence and beautifully restored, to the delight and astonishment of numerous visitors it welcomes every year from all over the world.
The Cathedral's role today is not so far removed from its days as a Benedictine monastery. Living up to its mission statement of “Worship, Welcome & Cares”, Ely offers regular daily worship with a special emphasis on choral music. The Cathedral still maintains a resident choir of 22 choristers and 6 lay clerks and so continues the tradition of choral evensong every day of the week during term time.
As well as being a key visitor attraction, Ely serves as a cultural focal point for East Anglia by providing a unique venue for the arts & music, for exhibitions, concerts and theatre. Most recently Ely has become a prominent film location for some epic films including Elizabeth: The Golden Age, The Other Boleyn Girl and The King's Speech.
Ely Cathedral is located in the centre of this historic city and is surrounded by mediaeval monastic buildings, parkland and meadows. A walk from the Cathedral through The Dean's Meadow and Cherry Hill Park will take you down to the riverside with its famous tearoom and restaurants. The surrounding gardens, lawns and parks make ideal spots for a picnic or somewhere to sit and enjoy the wonderful views.
The nave is the third longest in the UK, and the same length as Ely High Street. It's spectacular roof of painted panels depict The Jesse Tree, and move from Creation to Revelation as you walk from the West End up to the Crossing. The Nave's imposing Gothic columns lead you from the main West Door to another feature unique to this Cathedral, an octagonal shaped tower.
The famous Octagon Tower, sometimes referred to as The Lantern, is a wonder of the mediaeval world and globally recognised as a masterpiece of engineering. A guided tower tour takes you inside the Master Carpenter's oak Lantern Tower of huge, wooden beams. The masterful coloured panels, designed by George Gilbert Scott, open out allowing a spectacular view onto the Nave floor almost 40 meters below.
Completed in 1349, Ely Cathedral's Lady Chapel is the largest of its kind in the UK. Visitors are always struck not only by its size but the extraordinary sense of light and vastness of this magnificent space. This beauty is tempered by the destructiveness of the Reformation, as many of the carved figures in the walls are either beheaded or defaced. Both the architectural beauty and historic significance of this Chapel is renowned the world over.
Ely is one of the few remaining Cathedrals to have resident choristers. The boys' choir has been part of the English Choral tradition since the mid-16th century and can be traced back considerably further to the time of King Canute. Today the world famous choir consists of some 22 boy choristers and six adult lay clerks, and can be heard most evenings at Choral Evensong as well as on Sundays and Feast Days. In addition they give numerous concerts and recitals at the Cathedral.
For full information on visiting Ely Cathedral, including tours, guides, services, events & concerts, please see our website.
Summer: 7am - 6.30pm
Winter: Monday to Saturday 7am - 6.30pm
Winter: Sunday 7am - 5.30pm
Guided tours of the West Tower with its 288 steps and the Octagon are offered daily. A tour of the Cathedral itself is included in the entry price.
The Education Department offers a range of activities and experiences for schools including brass rubbing and a children's trail. For more information please see the education pages on our website.
Wheelchair access. Wheelchairs are available for use in the Cathedral.
Audio guides, large print and Braille guides.
There is a toilet suitable for disabled visitors in the Processional Way.
A loop system operates in the Choir and both the north and south Transepts.
The Refectory Café offers a wide range of light lunches and snacks with outside seating on the Cathedral Green during the summer months.
Monday to Saturday 10am - 5pm (4pm in winter)
Sunday 12pm - 5pm
For something more substantial try The Almonry restaurant, situated to the North East of the Cathedral on Ely's High Street. Tel: 01353 666360.
Monday to Saturday 9am - 5pm
Sunday 11am - 5pm
The Cathedral Gift Shop is well stocked with books, CDs, postcards and souvenirs specific to Ely Cathedral. There is also a wide range of beautiful gifts, handbags, jewellery and stationery.
The Chapter House
The College, Ely
Cambridgeshire, CB7 4DL