Although the original foundation of Ely Cathedral dates back to the initial Anglo-Saxon conversion in the 600s (and you can see a stone cross inside that dates from that period), the current building was begun in 1083 and completed in 1340.
At 537 feet long, it is the third longest cathedral in England (behind Winchester and St. Alban’s), and boasts a stunning 250-ft. nave with painted ceiling (thanks to those fine restorationists, the Victorians, who never get enough credit).
Its finest feature, however, is the unique octagonal lantern tower, built to replace the original tower, which collapsed in 1322.
The lantern tower and the nave make it perhaps the most beautiful (though not necessarily the most impressive) British cathedral interior I have ever seen, and I’ve seen about a dozen. Indeed, right after I saw it, I was inclined to rate it at the top of my list, but a return visit to Salisbury a few days later reminded me who the true queen of English cathedrals is.
One of the features I appreciated most about Ely, however, was its attempt to use the building evangelically. The little guide that they hand out to visitors sought to relate the different portions of the building to different theological themes and parts of the narrative of Christ’s life and death, and invited visitors to pause and pray on related themes at each point. Finally, at the end, it invited any visitors who wanted to learn more about the Christian faith to come and speak to the clergy. Perhaps this sort of thing oughtn’t to be surprising–of course cathedrals should present the Gospel, rather than merely their historical and architectural significance–but many are decidedly vague on the subject. So, three cheers for Ely!