St. Mary`s Church
St. Mary`s Church, Ely.
The Building of St. Mary`s Church
Bishop Eustace, who held the see from 1197 till 1215, is known to have rebuilt St, Mary's Church, which stands a few hundred yards to the west of the Cathedral...
This is the only indication that there was previous church on the site, so it is impossible to guess at the date or appearance of the earlier church. The present church suffers from being so close to such an important building as the Cathedral; if it were the chief church of the town it would receive more attention from visitors and no doubt it would contain more monuments of interest. However, anyone who takes the trouble to examine the building will find it a good example of its period.
The principal entrance is now by the north door, which displays all the usual features of late Norman or Transitional work. It is thought that the south door was originally the principal entrance, as more houses lay on that side of the church in early times. The chief features of the interior are the columns, which are taller and more slender than the earlier Norman style, though still plain and round. They support pointed arches, with very little decoration and stand on rough square bases. From their appearance it has been thought that at some time the level of the floor has been lowered in order to give an effect of greater height to the interior of the building.
The church consists of a nave with aisles, a side chapel on the south side, a chancel at a higher level, tower with spire, and modern vestry. The chancel has lancet windows at the sides and a east window of a later date. The proportions of this window are not pleasing as they give the effect of its being the upper part of a taller one. It is filled with modern stained glass depicting the adoration of the shepherds.
tower and spire are of the Decorated period, later than the remainder
of the church There is a peal of eight bells which were re-hung in
1939. In the following year, the side chapel, which for many years
had been filled with pews facing the body of the church was cleared,
re-furnished. and restored to its original use. In the east wall of
this chapel there is a modern stained-glass window showing scenes
connected with the history of Ely and including a view of the Cathedral.
a hexagonal church room was built in the churchyard south of the church
and connected with it by a passage. It cannot be seen from the road
and consequently the appearance of the church and its flanking buildings
has not changed.
chief building of St. John's Farm, which was the larger of these two
religious houses, presents a picturesque appearance with its crow-step
gables. Close examination has led to the belief that it is part of
the nave of a church, the aisles having been removed and the spaces
between the pillars filled with masonry. The alterations may have
been made when the establishment was dissolved and converted to lay
purposes in 1561. It is interesting to note that St. John's Barn is
oriented an the same line as St, Mary's Church, and St. Mary's Hospital
on the same line as the Cathedral. Most churches are built approximately
east and west with the altar at the east end, but there are exceptions
and in the case of Ely Cathedral the direction is a good deal south
of east. This may be due to a custom which arose of making the "east"
window face the rising sun on the feast of the patron saint; but there
is no proof of this.
event of importance during the 13th century was the founding of Peterhouse,
Cambridge, by Bishop Hugh de Balsham in the year 1280. This was the
first of the Cambridge colleges; the first Oxford college, Merton,
was founded six years previously, thus making Oxford the senior university.
The link between the Cathedral and the University has been maintained
to the present day. The Ely Professor of Divinity at the University
is also, by virtue of his office, a Canon of the Cathedral, as was
the Regius Professor of Hebrew followed by the Regius Professor of
Divinity until about 1940. Another Cambridge college, namely Jesus
College, owes its foundation to Bishop Alcock, who suppressed the
Nunnery of St. Radegund and converted it into a college in 1496 in
the reign of Henry VII. Bishops and Deans of Ely have often been great
scholars. For the past two hundred and fifty years it has been an
unwritten law that the Bishop should be a member of Cambridge University.
Back to Ely Town Trail