St Etheldreda 1350
Etheldreda, the foundress of the Abbey of Ely in 673, was one of four daughters of Anna, King of East Anglia, King of East Anglia, who lived at Exning, near Newmarket in Suffolk. Anna and his family were Christians and Etheldreda wanted to devote her life to religion, but the need for a political alliance with the fenland Girvii meant that is 652 she was married to Tonbert, a prince or ealdorman of the Girvii. As a dowry, Tonbert gave Etheldreda the Island of Ely.
In 654, Anna was killed fighting against the Penda, the heathen King of Mercia, and a year later Tonbert died. For some four of five years, Etheldreda then lived on her estates until a second marriage was arranged, this time with the fifteen year old Egfrith, heir to the Kingdom of Bernicia in Northumberland. The marriage was not successful and with the support of Wilfrid, Bishop of York, Etheldreda entered the convent of the Abbess Ebba, King Egfrith’s aunt, at Coldingham, and took the veil at the hands of the Bishop Wilfrid.
Egrith wanted his wife to return to him, but eventually, Etheldreda decided to flee and seek the protection of her isolated estate in the marshy fenlands. Egrith pursued her, but a sudden inundation made the roads impassable behind the Queen, and Egrith had to give up the chase.
When Etheldreda arrived on the Island of Ely, she found a small settlement called Cratendune, about a mile or so to the north-east. There she chose a hill top site for her monastery for monks and nuns. The inhabitants of the village of Cratendune abandoned their settlements to rebuild their homes close by the new abbey.
The year was 673 – it was the Dawn of Ely.
By Michael Rouse 1973
Ely and Ely Cathedral are celebrating a truly remarkable anniversary in the year 2023 – The 1350th Anniversary of the founding of a Double Monastery, for both Monks and Nuns, by Saint Etheldreda. This monastery would develop as a place of Christian Worship and pilgramage, becoming the site of Ely Cathedral.
This incredible anniversary will be marked by a year long series of events, hosted by a wide array of organisations in Ely and beyond. They will be listed here, and as more events are annouced they will be added here.
Mini Exhibition in St Etheldreda’s Chapel
1st February onwards
A timeline and visual interpretation depicting the four key stages in Etheldreda’s life – East Anglian Princess – Queen of Northumbria – Abbess of Ely – Anglo Saxon Saint.
Entry included with Cathedral admission ticket or pass.
Iceni Botanical Artists Art Exhibition
Friday 29 September – Friday 13 October
The Iceni Botanical Artists (IBA) are a group of artists based in East Anglia. The members use a wide range of styles, techniques and mediums to depict the plant world, as well as striving for botanical excellence. Their aim is to promote the creation and enjoyment of botanical art and illustration. Some of their members have work held in National collections at Kew and the Royal Horticultural Society.
Each year the IBA have one or two exhibitions, usually in Norfolk, Suffolk or Cambridgeshire. This year they are proud to be able to exhibit in the Lady Chapel for the first time, as part of the Cathedral’s year to celebrate the life of Queen Etheldreda. The theme of the exhibition will reflect her life in flowers and plants, the recently planted Ely Physic Garden, and Harvest Festival celebrations.
All the work exhibited will be for sale, as well as cards, prints, and an IBA 2024 calendar. Two workshops will be held during the exhibition for those interested in learning about botanical art, or for the more experienced to refine existing skills. These workshops can be booked via the links below:
For more about the IBA, member artists and examples of their work visit their website
St Etheldreda Banner Project
Explore the life of St Etheldreda through the eyes of children from throughout the Diocese of Ely. Schools and home educated children were invited to design panels showing key events in the life of St Etheldreda as part of an education project at the beginning of 2022. Twelve of these designs are being created into a set of hanging applique panels by the Ely Cathedral Broderers, thanks to generous sponsorship from the Cook family in loving memory of Rita and John McDermott and the Tann family.
First Evensong of the Translation of St Etheldreda
Monday 16th October, 5.30pm
Choral Evensong sung by the Girl Choristers of Ely Cathedral. The Feast of the Saints of Ely is that of Seaxburh, Saint Etheldreda’s sister; Ermenilda, Seaxburh’s daughter; Werburga, the daughter of Ermenilda (all of whom were abbesses in Ely) and Withburga who is traditionally held to be a sister or kinswoman of St Etheldreda.
Tuesday 17th October, 5.30pm
Preacher: The Very Reverend Dr David Hoyle MBE, Dean of Westminster. Join the College of Canons of Ely Cathedral for this special Choral Evensong sung by the Boy Choristers.
Son et Lumière*
Monday 20th & Tuesday 21th November, 7.15pm
A beautiful and exciting sequence of music sung by the Cathedral Choir, recounting the story of the Cathedral over more than a millennium, combines with atmospheric light effects in a darkened building.
Churches and chapels dedicated to St Etheldreda
This map plots churches and chapels which at one time or another have been dedicated to St Etheldreda, revealing her importance to the local area and extending as far as Chicago, USA!
The red pins indicate active places of worship. The blue pins indicate inactive or historic sites (no longer extant) dedicated to Etheldreda. Ely Cathedral is marked by a yellow pin as the site of Etheldreda’s shrine in the religious community she founded in 673.
Click on each pin to find out more about the denomination of the church, the diocese it is in and some notes on the foundation and history of the building.
Help us develop the map!
The map is a work in progress and we are sure there must be more existing and historic dedications to Etheldreda out there. We’d love to add more sites to it, so please let us know if you have a site to add or a correction to make by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.