Last Saturday was such a lovely spring day, I wanted to be out, but not necessarily out walking the whole day, so we drove off to spend the day in Ely, about 70 miles from London in the fenlands of North Cambridgeshire. We are cathedral junkies, and Ely was one of the first cathedrals we visited when we were new in England. We had been back once or twice, but not for many years.
The Fens are the marshy lands of East Anglia and Lincolnshire, that were first drained by the Romans, and then seriously drained in the 17th century by wealthy land owners using Dutch technology to create rich agricultural land from the drained peat bogs. Before the drainage, the high land areas were often referred to as Isles. In the early years of Saxon Christianity, St Etheldreda, a local princess, founded a monastery at Ely in 673. Her monastery was destroyed by the Vikings in 870, but rebuilt a hundred years later as a Benedictine house. In 1066, the Normans came and conquered, but they did not conquer the Saxon stronghold of East Anglia for another four years. When the Normans conquered, they built castles and cathedrals as quickly as they could to secure their foothold. Ely Cathedral was begun in the 1080s.
|The West Tower|
England's cathedrals do pride themselves on being living monuments, and most of them have examples of contemporary religious art.
Looking through my photos, and the new book we bought about the cathedral on Saturday has made me realise we are way out of practice with our church tourism forays. We missed so many treasures on this trip. Perhaps it was because it was the lure of the beautiful day outside or perhaps it was the lure of our next stop at Topping & Company, one of the best bookstores in England. (We had been to the Bath branch several years ago, but never to Ely's branch.)
After time well spent supporting a local independent bookseller and a superb lunch of codfish cakes for me and sausages for Bob in the garden of the Prince Albert . . .
. . . We headed to the Oliver Cromwell House . . .
The House included a very interesting short film on the draining of the Fenlands. As an MP, Cromwell was an advocate for his constituents forced off the land by the enclosures and the drainages. So we headed over to the local history museum for more displays about traditional agriculture in the Fens. Another weekend, we will go back to visit the agricultural museums that explain the technology of the drainage systems that still keep the land from returning to marshy waterland.
A lovely day out. Next weekend, we head back to East Anglia to look at a possible wedding venue in Suffolk.