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Ely, diocese of

Ely, diocese of. The see, now roughly conterminous with Cambridgeshire, was created in 1109. King Edgar and Æthelwold founded a monastery here in 970 to replace the double monastery, established in 673, but destroyed by the Danes in 870. The new wealthy monastery was one of the last English strongholds against the Norman invaders (1070). When the see of Dorchester was transferred to Lincoln in 1072, the abbot's request for a bishopric was not granted until 1109, when Henry I and Anselm carved the Ely diocese out of the vast see of Lincoln. Based on a rich abbey, in Domesday second only to Glastonbury in wealth, Ely was in the first league. Together with the archbishops of Canterbury and York and the bishops of Winchester and Durham, bishops of Ely had an income equal to the wealthiest barons. The second bishop, Nigel Le Poer (1133–69), emulated his uncle, Roger of Salisbury, Henry I's justiciar, by becoming treasurer of England and was instrumental in reforming central government under Henry II. William Longchamp (1189–97) was chancellor and justiciar under Richard I. His successor Eustace (1198–1215), also chancellor from 1197, had to flee after becoming involved in John's dispute with Innocent III. The 13th-cent. arrival of the Franciscans in Cambridge accelerated the university's growth. The bishops of Ely kept a watchful eye on this new development. Hugh de Balsham founded the first college, Peterhouse, in 1284 and subsequent bishops retained their right to confirm the chancellorship until 1401. In 1836 the bishops lost their ancient secular jurisdiction over the Isle of Ely, to compensate which, in 1837, the see was enlarged by the addition of Bedfordshire, Huntingdonshire, and parts of Suffolk. In 1914, nevertheless, the diocese lost Bedfordshire to St Albans and west Suffolk to Bury St Edmunds. The town for centuries had a reputation as a squalid and unhealthy place, but the cathedral, begun c.1083, rose majestically above the fens, a landmark for miles. It has a Norman nave and is noted for its 14th-cent. octagonal lantern tower and its unusual northerly Lady Chapel.

Revd Dr William M. Marshall

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