English Churches - Cambridgeshire

Ely Cathedral - Part 4

The Octagon

The square Norman central tower collapsed in 1322, probably due to unstable ground and insufficient foundations. Rather than replace with a similar tower, it was decided to build a wider structure which would spread the load. An octagon with a lantern top was the answer. The four original tower piers and adjoining nave, transepts and choir were removed, opening up a larger area. This moved the weight of the new structure further out, so increasing stability. The roof and lantern were supported by a complex timber structure rather than stone also reducing the weight. There is a model showing the wooden framework in the north transept.

Ely Cathedral

The overall effect is awe inspiring and, along with the nave, it is one of the glories of Ely cathedral. It is built in the Early English Gothic style of architecture with pointed arches and more carving.  Around the Octagon on either side of the arches of the main pillars are the only Medieval carvings in the cathedral to have survived the Reformation, possibly because they tell the story of St Etheldreda.

The Octagon forms a large open space in the heart of the cathedral, with a small altar under the centre of it. On one of the pillars is the pulpit with the Millennium carving of Christ in Glory above it. 

Ely Cathedral  Ely Cathedral

The Octagon is surrounded by tall stone columns leading to pointed arches.

Ely Cathedral      Ely Cathedral

Ely Cathedral

The tops of the arches support the painted wood fan vaulted ceiling leading to the lantern. Round the base of the Lantern are painted panels with images of angels. Above are Gothic stained glass windows
Ely Cathedral

Ely Cathedral

Ely Cathedral

The painted lantern ceiling has Christ in Majesty at the centre, surrounded by seraphim, cherubs and angels. It is glorious.

Ely Cathedral

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