During a recent visit back to my home country of East Anglia in the UK, I got the chance of a day in Ely, site of one of the great English cathedrals. East Anglia is rich in churches and at least three cathedrals of note, but Ely, the ‘Ship of the Fens’ is a stunner.
The Fens are a wide flat area of reclaimed marshes, now rich farmland, and the Cathedral is visible for many miles in all directions, it’s long complex shape gradually becoming clearer under still grey skies. The strange bump in the middle of the structure resolves into an octagonal tower, one of the glories of this building. Inside the long nave is punctuated by the light from this glorious octagonal lantern, and your eyes are irresistibly drawn up to gaze on the radiating ribs of the roof. The lantern itself is a wooden structure resting on the stone walls, raising the height with less weight and the greater tensile strength of the wooden beams. In the 1320’s, the country’s forests were scoured for 8 massive and straight oaks, whose trunks would supply the main supporting pillars. It could not be built in this way today as the English forests no longer contain such massive trees.