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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.

Support our Buildings and Heritage

Please donate online today to support the ongoing work of conserving this beautiful building.

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'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.

Did You Know

The Cathedral is built of Barnack limestone (quarried near Peterborough). The monks paid 8000 eels a year for the stone!