The Presbytery

The Presbytery is so named because it is here that the priests, or presbyters, officiate. It was dedicated in 1252 in the presence of King Henry III and Prince Edward. The Norman church ended just east of the steps to your left. In the thirteenth century Bishop Hugh Northwold rebuilt the whole of the east end to provide a magnificent setting for the shrine of St Etheldreda and to accommodate the growing number of pilgrims who came to pray there. The shrine was destroyed on the orders of Bishop Goodrich – a black marble stone marks its position. This part of the Cathedral, built in the Early English style, has a particular gracefulness, the Purbeck marble columns leading the eye past the arches to the rib vault of the ceiling.

In 1109, not long after it was built, the monastery church became a cathedral. It is here that the Bishop has his Chair, or cathedra, the symbol of his authority as a teacher of the faith – in the same way university professors also occupy Chairs. Today the diocese has two bishops, and they use the two chairs on the south side of the Presbytery, which were made for the Queen and Prince Philip for the Royal Maundy Service in 1987.

At the east of the Presbytery is the High Altar. The marble reredos, in the Italian style, was designed by George Gilbert Scott, the architect of the Victorian restoration. Its five panels depict the events of Holy Week, the last week of Jesus’ life, from his entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to his death on Good Friday. The central panel shows the last supper, which is recalled in the Eucharist celebrated at this altar every Sunday.
People look at Jesus in various ways. Christians believe that he is the human face of God and call him God’s Son. His life was so significant that the calendar was stopped and started again from the date of his birth. In Jesus we see the wholeness of our humanity – a human life lived to its full potential. Jesus commanded his followers to love one another as he had loved them. Love has many meanings, but at its heart is a willingness to put others before oneself and to take their interests seriously. Ely Cathedral is home to a group of people who seek to follow Jesus, striving to be a Christian community of worship, welcome and care.

The Choir

After the central tower collapsed the opportunity was taken to rebuild the first three bays of the choir in a style similar to the new octagon. The work was commissioned by Bishop John Hotham at his personal expense of 2034 pounds, 12 shillings, 8 pence and 3 farthingsl Its style is a development of the Early English known as Decorated, which is lighter, slender and with more embellishment.
The rear rows of the Choir stalls date from the fourteenth century. Underneath the seats are carved panels known as misericords.
The desks and the front stalls are Victorian, with some fine angel end pieces. On the canopies above the stalls are a series of nineteenth-century carvings, which are the work of Michel Abeloos from Louvain in Belgium. Scenes from the Old Testament are on the south side, and on the north side are corresponding scenes from the New Testament. At the west end, the birth of Jesus (panel 1 ) is paralleled with the creation of Adam; his baptism (panel 7) is paralleled with Noah and the Flood, and his ascension (final panel) with Elijah being taken up to heaven.

The Choir screen and the organ case are by Scott, the latter being modelled on the medieval organ in Strasbourg Cathedral. Music is an essential part of worship. It has a unique capacity to speak to the spirit, to convey truths that cannot be expressed in words. When the monastery was dissolved in 1539 King Henry VIII provided for a full time choir in Ely, and, apart from a short break during the time of Oliver Cromwell, the choral tradition has been maintained here ever since.

8 Comments CherryPie on Dec 20th 2018

8 Responses to “The Presbytery and the Choir”

  1. Ginnie says:

    I see images like this, Cherry, and always think of my mom and dad who would be in awe. He was a preacher and she was a choir director and organist.

  2. Your shots of Ely are stunning, CP. Wishing you and your a very Merry christmas and a Happy New Year!

  3. Beautiful photos as always Cherie and thanks so much also for all the interesting information. I feel I have visited the cathedral with you :)

  4. Have you been to Rochester Cathedral?
    I think their quire is equally impressive.