One of England’s great cathedrals, with its tower standing over 40 metres tall above the Fens, Ely Cathedral was rebuilt in the late 11th and 12th centuries in Romanesque style following the Norman invasion then had a burst of exuberance in the 14th century in highly decorated Gothic style in the Choir, the beautiful Lady Chapel and rebuilding of the Central Tower (after the previous one collapsed) with its unique octagonal vaulting. Further exuberance arrived with the chaotic stonework of the Chantry Chapels in the 16th century.
Continuing the traditional of contemporary art – much of the stained glass is 19th century as is the painted timber ceiling, along with a maze on the floor of the west porch -, the cathedral has continued to commission new work including Jonathan Clarke’s doodle of ‘The Way of Life’ soaring above Hans Feibusch’s ‘Christus’, new ironwork and an altar underneath the octagonal crossing and, currently, a large sculpture by American artist Helaine Blumenfeld on the lawn outside announcing a display of her work throughout the cathedral with her swirling, curving sculptures, carefully placed within the architecture of the cathedral, the modern naturalistic, abstract forms that are somewhere between earth and heaven, contrasting and complimenting the grandeur and exuberance of the historic architecture.
When I visited, the rain was pouring down from the grey skies inside, but the choir inside was rehearsing for Harvest Festival later that morning, and the musical voices brought everything to life, historic and modern. You should always visit a cathedral when music adds to the visual and spiritual experience.