By the time you read this, Easter will have come and gone, and spring will be in full swing. New life returned to our gardens and the colours of God’s creation will be returning in abundance. I am reminded of the well-known saying; “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” which is very subjective. This is because we all see beauty from different perspectives. Many things in life that capture our imagination radiate a foretaste of God’s perfection. “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end” Ecclesiastes 3: 11.
We have been formed from the potter’s hands and have been given the abilities to capture and share the beauty of creation. We witness some of these creative works through many forms; art, architecture, carpentry and many more. I have always been an admirer of church architecture and had the opportunity to visit Ely Cathedral during my time training in Cambridge.
I was given the great privilege to visit areas of the cathedral’s structures where visitors would not normally be allowed. In the centre of the cathedral hangs the Octagon, which overlooks the Nave. It came in to being following a disaster which struck the cathedral on 13 February 1322, when the Norman central tower collapsed due to poor foundations. Exploration was undertaken and firmer ground was discovered further out from the original pillars and from this the idea of building the Octagon was overcome by a lantern. The expanse of the Octagon tower measured 70ft and the lantern was 30ft wide. The challenge was how to support this immense octagonal prism set vertically. This was achieved by using eight oak trees cut into beams, suspended in the air and was a result of the intricate and skilful work of the carpenters, which can only be seen behind the structure of the Octagon. There are 170 steps to the roof of the lantern. In the centre is a roof that spans 4ft across and is carved with the image of Christ showing the wounds in his hands and side, with the light that shines down from the lantern into the heart of the cathedral. The height from floor to the top of the lantern is 142ft, and its total weight is 400 tonnes; it took 18 years to build.
Reflecting on the Notre Dame Cathedral disaster, the Octagon at Ely Cathedral reminds us of how glory can come out of ruin and hope can overcome despair and death that leads to new life. The painted angel panels located within the Octagon illustrate the heavenly hosts representing the link between the world of time and space and ourselves, symbolising the link between earth and heaven, time and eternity. This achievement of human endeavour helps us to reflect and remember the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that brings heaven down to earth and raises earth to heaven.