Celebrations of life
The ground beneath Ely is capped by boulder clay, which can be characterised as a partly consolidated clay or mud. This means that the cathedral’s foundations are less than 6ft (2m) in depth, with no crypts or undercrofts. There are, however, a wide variety of chapels, memorials and reliefs depicting the lives of many of the religious figures associated with the building. St Edmund, for example, who was killed by the Danes in 870, is commemorated in scenes upon both the north and south walls. The former shows him tied to a tree before being executed by arrows. The tomb of Bishop Richard Redman, Bishop of Ely from 1501-1505, celebrates his famous generosity, with an inscription stating that: ‘In his journeys, through any towns where he stayed but an hour, it was his practice to cause a Bell to be rung, that the Poor may come and partake of his Charity, which he plentifully bestowed upon them.’ The successes and largesse of Bishop Nicholas West, Bishop of Ely from 1515-1534, are also celebrated, recording that ‘he lived in the greatest splendour of any Prelate in his time’ and fed ‘warm meat and drink to the excess of 200 people per day’. On his death, he left ‘250 books and 5,000 ounces of silver and silver gilt’. There is also a chapel dedicated to the woman who can be regarded as the founder of the cathedral, St Etheldreda. Famed for her deep faith and the miracles it is claimed that God performed through her, the shrine became a focal point of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages. Both 23 June and 17 October are still observed as major festivals at the cathedral in her honour.
A painting on the North Wall depicts St Edmund, just prior to his execution.