Ely Cathedral aglow with festive cheer as it prepares for another hectic Christmas

Ely Cathedral behind the scenes ahead of Christmas. Picture: Steve Williams.

Ely Cathedral behind the scenes ahead of Christmas. Picture: Steve Williams. - Credit: Archant

Thousands of visitors flock to Ely Cathedral to gaze at all its festive splendour every Christmas – and on entering through the historic building’s doors this year, one can certainly see why.

Every Christmas, Ely Cathedral comes alive with festive cheer, and this year is no exception.

Walking into the gothic cathedral’s grand Nave, one’s eye is instantly drawn to the glorious Christmas tree which is situated and the end of the south aisle.

The tree is the cathedral’s most prized asset every Christmas but the festive centrepiece is just one of a vast collection of spectacles that the cathedral’s staff has worked tirelessly to present over a hectic Christmas schedule.

Speaking to Sacrist and Director of Operations Chris Flatman and Deputy Operations Manager Sallyann Ford, the lengths they and the cathedral’s staff have gone through to organise this year’s events are plain to see.


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“Preparations for Christmas usually start in January,” says Mrs Ford.

“There’s a lot of excitement at this time of the year and our team of staff and volunteers work so hard.”

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“We’ve already hosted nine carol services and concerts since the beginning of December and we’ve got more on the way.”

The cathedral kicked off festivities this year with a Christmas gift and food fair in November, which welcomed over 150 stalls, spanning the length of the cathedral’s nave and Lady Chapel.

November concluded with the advent procession and carols, which saw hundreds welcome the season of advent.

The days leading to Christmas have seen the cathedral host a number of carol services and concerts, including A Gospel Christmas - a festive evening of gospel music led by Ken Burton of the BBC’s ‘The Choir’ and ‘Songs of Praise,’ performed by The Croydon Gospel Choir with Ely Cathedral Girls’ Choir.

And as the cathedral’s staff prepare for yet more yuletide events, director of operations Chris Flatman says it is hard to not get swept away with all the festivities at Christmas time.

He said: “The best way to deal with Christmas here at the cathedral is to just go with the flow. It’s best to just take one day at a time because it’s very easy to get swept up with all the excitement.

“Christmas can leave you a bit frazzled but it’s worth it.”

Arguably the cathdral’s finest festive feature is its stunning Christmas tree.

This year’s tree is adorned with twinkling golden lights and baubles, and overlooks the cathedral’s Nave, standing at a staggering 30 feet tall.

Each year, a tree is selected from the Elveden Estate in Suffolk.

This year, over 2,000 baubles and 200 lights have been draped over the tree’s branches – a task that took six days to complete.

Staff spent up to 12 hours a day perfecting the cathedral’s glistening centrepiece and Mrs Ford believes this year’s tree is one of their best yet.

She said: “Our team, especially Clare Shropshire, have worked so hard on the tree.

“It usually takes around a week to put up and decorate, and Clare has made sure every bauble is particularly placed and every little detail is right. We’re very proud of it this year.”

The cathedral’s refectory and gift shop have also been gripped by the Christmas spirit.

Mrs Ford said: “The great thing about Christmas is the locals coming and using the refectory. We get a lot of customers at Christmas but it’s always great to see the locals coming in and using the facilities.”

As Christmas Day draws ever nearer, a Hark the Herald evening of traditional Christmas carols will be performed by the Ely Cathedral Choir and The Ely Imps on December 23.

Ely Cathedral will welcome Christmas Eve by hosting crib services, followed by the first Eucharist of Christmas at 11.30pm.

The cathedral will be celebrating Christmas Day itself by hosting a second sung Eucharist followed by a Christmas Dinner, which has received overwhelming demand, selling out completely.

The festive season draws to a close for the cathedral on December 27, where it will host a service of readings and carols, led by local singers and their guests, at 4pm.

And for the staff? A well-earned rest.

“All we want to do after Christmas is to go home and sleep,” says Mrs Ford.

“A lot of staff and hundreds of volunteers work tirelessly to put these things together, but we all love it.

“It’s a jolly good time.”

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