The Secret Life of Ely Cathedral


Between the Autumn of 2014 and the Winter of 2015, a group of nineteen OuseLife artists have been utterly absorbed by this fascinating collaborative project with Ely Cathedral, a tiny part of which is captured here. Lots of other significant meetings, portrait sittings, research and sketching took place and we are indebted to all of the people who helped us.

Autumn 2014

  • Meeting with the Education Officer to discuss workshop possibilities

  • Artists attend Evensong in the Lady Chapel: "Sublime: a profound sense of the ancientness of the place and a sense of continuity in time."

Winter 2014

  • Artists attend Ely Cathedral Gift and Food Fair

    "In 2014, my daughter went on the Gallopers for the first time and the whole event felt magical. Whilst these public events are no longer secret in themselves, I love the idea that they bind us to a long forgotten history of treasured experiences for the people of Ely and surrounding villages."

  • Sketching and researching in the Archive office

    Triforium tour with the Verger

  • Working on preliminary sketches for portraits

  • Pilgrimage Tour with the Canon Missioner

  • Cathedral Tour with Cathedral Guides Coordinator

  • An afternoon in the Black Hostelry, observing and sketching students at the Goldwork embroidery workshop. They were working on a set design of the Ely Knot which was inspired by the motifs found on a beautiful example of 14th century ecclesiastical embroidery at Ely Cathedral.

  • Tour of scaffolding: "Outside the views were amazing, and the conservation work fascinating. Inside, as we climbed higher we could look close up at the newly discovered fragments of Medieval painting way up high on the North transept wall. At the top I actually touched the ceiling of this wonderful building. It was an awesome moment."

  • Artists visit Prior Crauden's Chapel: "What a hidden gem it is. There are still traces of Medieval paintings in evidence and hidden under a rug, the most stunning Medieval terracotta mosaic floor depiction of Adam and Eve."

  • Meeting with the Carpenter to trim panel for artwork. "The astonishing lack of symmetry in the archway meant that getting a snug fit turned out to be hours of work and involved going up and down a ladder countless times with a heavy piece of plywood. Getting it there and back wasn't an easy job either."

Spring 2015

  • Second Cathedral Tour with Cathedral Guides Coordinator: "It was so good we had to do it twice."

    Research at the Fitzwilliam Museum, where they are exhibiting John Piper's sketch of the Prior's Door.

    Research on graffiti at Norwich Cathedral.

Summer 2015

  • Octagon Tour

    It was one of those perfect, warm early July mornings: cloudless, an endless blue sky, barely a breeze. Our warm-hearted and knowledgeable guide gave us an unforgettable tour. How marvellous to observe at close quarters the way that the Octagon was engineered and built, and then - the piece de resistance - to gaze with awe through one of the angel windows down to the Cathedral floor hundreds of feet below."

  • High Level Tour

  • Research tour of Winchester Cathedral to see Winchester Bible and Wall paintings.

  • Artist takes up residence in the Bishop of Ely's greenhouse: "I wanted to bring the mermaid out of the Chapel. She took form in the greenhouse and seemed happy there. I would have liked to include the greenhouse as part of the exhibition. There were so many things in there that I wanted to work with: seed heads, a beautiful box and cupboards and drawers full of Victorian flowerpots and tools."

  • OuseLife artists come up from Devon to sketch the Cathedral and meet with their portrait sitters. "I returned to Ely during the winter and painted in the building itself, struck by its scale and the drama of light and shadow. It's a place where history feels very close...There's the spot where Turner sat two hundred years ago when he drew the Octagon.

  • Drawing in the Nave.

    Filming in the Cathedral.

    OuseLife artists visit World Monuments Fund Zanzibar exhibition.

    Family workshop in Adams Heritage Centre in Littleport.

    Meeting with the Cathedral Flower Guild.

  • Observing education in action: "I was working in the Cathedral one day when I stumbled on these wonderful medieval-style shoes. Soon after came the murmur of young voices entering the Cathedral and I realised that these were part of a wonderful interactive session, bringing history to life. The large groups of children were totally captivated by the whole experience."

  • Sketching in the Deanery Garden.

Spring 2016

  • Storytelling and drawing workshops for all ages in Ely Cathedral to create the Fenland and Ouse Washes story quilt.

    Visit to Birmingham Cathedral to see the Soul Boats exhibition by Jake Lever.

  • Witness to the raising and decorating of the Christmas tree.

  • Technical assessment for hanging willow from the Octagon, working with Willow cut from allotment in the summer.

  • Richard Cork; Art Critic, Historian, Editor and Exhibition Curator accepts our invitation to be the guest speaker at our Private View.

  • Meeting with Carpenter and Clerk of Works to discuss the practicalities of displaying artworks.

  • Selection Committee meeting in the Chapter House: work for the exhibition approved by the Dean of Ely, the Director of Operations and Sacrist and the Communications Director.

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