THE OCTAGON OF ELY CATHEDRAL
 
 
The central octagonal tower, with its vast internal open space and its pinnacles and lantern above, forms the most distinctive and celebrated feature of the cathedral. However, what Pevsner describes as Ely's 'greatest individual achievement of architectural genius' came about through a disaster at the centre of the Cathedral. On the night of 1213 February 1322, possibly as a result of digging foundations for the Lady Chapel, the Norman central crossing tower collapsed. Work on the Lady Chapel was suspended as attention transferred to dealing with this disaster. Instead of being replaced by a new tower on the same ground plan, the crossing was enlarged to an octagon, removing all four of the original tower piers and absorbing the adjoining bays of the nave, chancel and transepts to define an open area far larger than the square base of the original tower. The construction of this unique and distinctive feature was overseen by Alan of Walsingham. The extent of his influence on the design continues to be a matter of debate, as are the reasons such a radical step was taken. Mistrust of the soft ground under the failed tower piers may have been a major factor in moving all the weight of the new tower further out.

The large stone octagonal tower, with its eight internal archways, leads up to timber fan-vaulting that appears to allow the large glazed timber lantern to balance on their slender struts. The roof and lantern are actually held up by a complex timber structure above the vaulting which could not be built in this way today because there are no trees big enough. The central lantern, also octagonal in form, but with angles offset from the great Octagon, has panels showing pictures of musical angels, which can be opened, with access from the Octagon roof-space, so that real choristers can sing from on high.More wooden vaulting forms the lantern roof. At the centre is a wooden boss carved from a single piece of oak, showing Christ in Majestry. The elaborate joinery and timberwork was brought about by William Hurley, master carpenter in the royal service.
(ref: Wikepedia)
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