On Sunday 2nd Sept 2018 we decided to pay a visit to Ely Cathedral on our way back from Cambridge to Lancashire. It was a spontaneous decision. It’s over 10 years since we last visited Ely so we took this opportunity to refresh our memories of this magnificent Cathedral.
Highly regarded throughout the world by historians, architects and many- if not all - of the tens of thousands of visitors each year, the Cathedral is renowned for its beauty and size and is widely acknowledged as ‘one of the wonders of the Medieval world’. Visibly on the horizon for many miles in every direction, it is often referred to as ‘The Ship of the Fens’.
Ely’s history dates back to 673 when the Saxon Princess Etheldreda founded a double monastery for men and women on the site. This was destroyed by the Danes in 870, but later re-founded as a benedictine Community in 970. The earliest work began on the present building around 1080 under Abbot Simeon and it became a cathedral in 1109. Despite the fact that Henry Vlll closed the monastery in 1539, it has continued to exist as a cathedral.
This visit did not disappoint. Ely Cathedral is awesome, a true phenomenon to be marvelled at. It’s difficult to take everything in on just one visit as there is so much to see and experience.
As well as being a place of worship the Cathedral is also a cultural focal point for East Anglia, providing a splendid venue for exhibitions, concerts and theatre. As mentioned, our visit was a ‘spare of the moment’ decision so we had no idea what - if any - events would be showing. However, as we approached the Cathedral we noticed a fabulous bronze sculpture located on Cross Green. We immediately recognised it as ILLUSION by Helaine Blumenfeld, one of our all time favourite sculptors. In our wilder daydreaming moments, we’ve often fantasied about owning a Blumenfeld - very much a ‘dream on’ scenario. As we entered the cathedral directly in front of us in the nave, ablaze in golden light was another beautiful, bronze sculpture MERIDANA.
We were delighted to learn that the cathedral is currently showing an impressive exhibition of Heliane Blumenfeld’s work - TREE OF LIFE . The exhibition consists of 18 sculptures, dramatically positioned around the cathedral, with two of the largest pieces - ILLUSION and TREE OF LIFE: TRANSFORMATION - placed in the grounds.
The TREE OF LIFE is an important and enduring theme throughout Helaine Blumenfeld’s work and this exhibition could not have asked for a better venue. With pieces positioned in between the recesses of the Norman Columns, bathed in sensitive mood lighting for the marbles and dazzling fire light for the bronzes, the effect is fabulous. As you enter the Lady Chapel - the largest of it kind in England - the feeling is one of light and space. Five pieces are exhibited here including the beautiful EXODUX II in white marble, but without doubt the dominant sculpture is ANGELS HARMONY created in 2011. For us this was not only the main piece in the Lady Chapel, it was the most outstanding sculpture in the exhibition. Having previously only seen photographs of it, seeing it for real was an amazing, thought provoking experience.
We’re particularly drawn to this piece because of the many interpretations you can explore and visualise within it. Although it’s titled ANGELS HARMONY depending on how the sculpture is light it could equally be titled Demons Harmony and the many different angles it can be viewed from further increases the possibilities for multi interpretation - as seen in our images. Obviously these observations reflect our personal feelings, others may think differently.
We had a wonderful time and enjoyed every minute of our visit. The weather was stunning, so we were able to wander around the cathedral grounds at our leisure.
Ely Cathedral has much too offer any visitor as well as the exhibition - which runs until 28th October 2018. For anybody wishing to visit, please enjoy…….
Christine and Alastair