History and Heritage
Ely has welcomed visitors and pilgrims for over 1300 years. The heart of a vibrant Christian community today, Ely Cathedral offers a glimpse into centuries of English heritage alongside stunningly beautiful art and architecture.
- Ely was an island until 400 years ago, when work started to drain the Fens (freshwater marshes) surrounding the city to create the fertile farmland we see today.
- Ely is the second smallest city in England. The small town grew up around the monastery and Cathedral which dominated the Isle of Ely for centuries.
- Ely is the third longest medieval cathedral in England, at 161m (537’). Its graceful Norman nave is among the longest in England, with a remarkable 19th century painted ceiling.
- The West Tower was completed c1189. It is 66m (215’) high and there are 288 steps up to the top.
- The 14th century Octagon tower and its unique wooden lantern is considered one of the wonders of the medieval world. It took 20 years to build and cost £2,406 6s 11d.
- Many of Ely’s medieval monastery buildings continue to be used, even today. They provide accommodation for the Cathedral’s staff and choirs, and for King’s School, Ely.
- Ely has had a choir school for boys since the 10th century. 2006 saw the creation of a Girls’ Cathedral Choir.
'A History of Ely Cathedral' book is available in from our online shop. This hardback book contains 560 pages covering in depth information from 672 to present day.