Monday, July 25, 2011


On the second weekend of my parents' visit, the amalgamated Woodwarde and Hambly Famblies piled into a rented car for the 2+ hour drive to Ely, Cambridgeshire (pronounced EE-lee).  We were making a day trip to see the beautiful and impressive Ely Cathedral.  The Penwarden/Smiths had been there before and recommended it as a lovely visiting spot.  I had learned about the cathedral in my Word and Worship class at SMU, and it was high on my list of spots to see while we are in England.  So we made a pleasant, chatty drive  to the area north of London and looked forward to taking in the sights.  The cathedral has been modified and added to across the centuries, but the original structure was erected on the site in the twelfth century.

The town of Ely is not at all large, so the cathedral is certainly a main attraction.  There really isn't much building clutter around it so you see it rising up on the horizon as you drive into the area.  Then it kind of disappears behind a hill, and you think it's gone away, so you go to look for a spot to have lunch while you wait for the cathedral to reappear, and lo and behold:

We stopped at The Almonry for lunch and tea, right next to the grounds of the cathedral.  From there we had a pretty spectacular view of our destination!  There were a lot of families in the cafe with students in graduation robes.  My family was remembering how fun my graduation weekend from Perkins was, over a year ago now!  (Their robes were blue.)

We (Mark) started chatting up one of the families and learned that they were having their graduation from the nearby seminary shortly, and it was taking place in the cathedral.  How cool, we all said, to get to graduate in Ely Cathedral!  "Maybe they'll want us to sing for them," my Mom said.

We finished up our lunch and began to wander the cathedral grounds, generally making our way from the back corner of the building where the cafe was to the front entrance.

Here you can see how aspects of the architecture have been tacked on, bricked up and tinkered with over the centuries.

Highland Park is nice and everything, but how cool would it be to graduate here??
As we neared the front entrance, it became evident from snippets of conversation (and confirmed by a vested "Ask me about..." volunteer) that, of course, because the graduation was about to take place, the cathedral was closed to the public for the afternoon.

There was about to be one graduation ceremony starting at 2, and then there would be another one at four or five (by which point we intended to be on our way back to London).  Oh no!!  We promptly saw the irony of us sitting in the cafe saying how special and fun it was that this graduation ceremony was taking place.  Mark pointed out that there had been no mention of this event on the cathedral's website the week before.  Need the info!

So, we were feeling a little defeated in our day-trip endeavours.  We decided to take a stroll around Ely, and go to Oliver Cromwell's house, where there is a museum.

This pic is for Susan - the opposite of "Lazy Susan"??
Quaint-looking townhouse near the cathedral.

On our way to Cromwell's house we passed St. Mary's Church, his childhood parish.  There were beautiful roses in front of it!

We were disappointed about the cathedral but decided to take in the Cromwell museum.

The museum is set up as a guided walk-through with listening devices and an introductory video.  The visitor is invited to decide for him or herself whether Cromwell is a hero or a villain in Britain's history.

The museum was not as slick as the Bach museum in Leipzig, but it was very interesting and also quite interactive:

How do I look?

Scale model of Cromwell's house.
 At the end, they had a magnetic board where you could pick a side - hero or villain - and post it up on a board.  They tally them up at the end of each month and post the results.

Apparently January was a particularly optimistic month.

After that we did some wandering around town, and took in a summer market in the main square.  It was an interesting combination of craft items, garage-sale tents, rickety carnival rides, sweet old ladies, and drunk townees.  We sat for tea and people-watched, and then ended up poking around a really neat antiques store down by the river.

After that, we decided to try our luck at going back to the cathedral for the end of the first graduation ceremony, to see if they were letting people in as they prepared for the second one.

Lucky for us, that did the trick, and we got in to the cathedral!

Beautiful cross motif at the cathedral entrance.
The inside of Ely is breathtaking - so spacious and open, with an incredible quality of light (which of course is impossible to take a photo of!)

The sun beams down through this amazing dome at the front of the nave, and the transepts feature stunning stained glass windows and are hung with historic flags.

There is no lack of engaging and stunningly beautiful icons in the cathedral, including this African-looking Christ sculpture above the pulpit.

The light coming through these stained glass windows turned them the most vivid shade of blue I think I have ever seen.
People were bustling about preparing for the next graduation ceremony and families were milling about taking photos and celebrating with their loved ones.  No one seemed to mind when we snuck up into the choir to have a mini hymn-sing; Njalo, In the Lord I'll be ever thankful, Gloria, All creatures of our God and King (the latter out of the English Hymnal in the choir stalls).  A member of staff came by and said "well sung vespers is usually at seven but maybe we'll have to move it up today!"

The floor of the narthex features a stone labyrinth.

Now, Ely is actually the location where they filmed the coronation scenes in The King's Speech - not in Westminster Abbey itself.  Not surprising, since a) I'm sure it's impossible to get a camera crew ok'd into  Westminster Abbey unless you happen to be getting married in front of the world there and b) Ely is gorgeous and, with a little makeup and smoke and mirrors, stands in for the Abbey handsomely.  (David says he noticed during The King's Speech that there were things that didn't look right in the Westminster Abbey scenes; I can claim no such keen observation skills.)  There were actually a couple of posters up about movies that have been filmed there, but The King's Speech is the one that I remember.

So, see below for an interesting prop on display - the replica ancestral chair that is a focal point of pivotal scenes in the movie, where kings and queens sit during their coronation.  We've seen the actual chair in the entrance of Westminster Abbey, behind bulletproof (I imagine) glass; now here was a fake one on full display!  Interesting.

We were so thrilled to be able to poke around the cathedral and that our mini-pilgrimage wasn't in vain.  Content, we piled into the car and zipped back to Dulwich for another lovely family dinner and evening of visiting.  Another check off my England to-do list - and a highlight day of my parents' visit, for sure!

1 comment:

K.Tucker said...

How lovely! I've been told I need to go to Ely and I can certainly see why!