The Secret Life of Ely Cathedral

Exploring Behind the Scenes at Ely Cathedral

OuseLife artists have had some fantastic opportunities to see some of the workings and hidden gems of the Cathedral. Notable experiences during our time here, have been tours given by 3 very experienced and knowledgeable guides, Barbara McGowan, Mark Bradford and Brian Parsley, all with their own special interests in the Cathedral which they pursue with impressive and inexhaustible passion and enthusiasm. We are deeply grateful to them for sharing with us their special places and infecting us with their deeply held love and respect for what they revealed.

One freezing cold March morning, when the heaters had given up completely, Barbara McGowan (Cathedral Guides Co-ordinator) took a group of us around the Cathedral. Such was her enthusiasm, knowledge and ability to tell us about the history and people involved in the building that after several hours we reached saturation point (and possibly frostbite) and had to schedule another time to finish the tour. Barbara brought the daily routines of the monks and the monastic buildings to life and showed us carvings of animals and heads that often remain unseen.

Brian Parsley's interest lies in the Prior Crauden's Chapel, a short walk away from the main building. Here, under a protective carpet lies a Medieval tiled floor showing Adam & Eve with a serpent, amongst other beautiful animals and plants.

Mark Bradford took us on a high level tour of the Cathedral. His special interest is the graffiti in the Cathedral and he pointed out many moving examples of names, dates and messages inscribed into the fabric of the building. We saw the rows and rows of blocks of stone from the Cathedral carefully packed and labelled in the Triforium, next to the statue of Joseph and his sheep, awaiting their next Christmas outing. We looked down from the dizzying height of the Octagon tower into the choir stalls. We scrambled in the dark above and along the Nave ceiling and on into the Belfry with its wonderful canopy of wooden beams crisscrossing the tower. The bell rang, displaying the workings of its mechanism and we climbed up the stairs to get a closer look in this fascinating, little seen but regularly active part of the Cathedral.

These tours were just the start of a year interpreting and creating new artworks that will be revealed in “The Secret Life of Ely Cathedral”, an OuseLife exhibition, which runs from 6th April to 2nd May inclusive, in the South West Transept and with site specific pieces throughout the Cathedral.

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