Diocese of Ely

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Diocese of Ely
Church of England
Province: Canterbury
Arms of the Bishop of Ely
Ely Cathedral and Palace Green.jpg

Ely Cathedral and Palace Green
Bishop: Stephen Conway
signs as: Eliensis
Cathedral: Ely Cathedral
Bishop of Huntingdon
Archdeaconries: Cambridge, Huntingdon and Wisbech
No. of parishes: 309
No. of churches: 339
Website: ely.anglican.org

The Diocese of Ely is a diocese of the Church of England, within the Province of Canterbury. The diocese today covers broadly Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire, and a few parishes in north-western Norfolk.

The diocesan bishop, the Bishop of Ely, has his seat at Ely Cathedral in the tiny City of Ely.

The diocese is ancient, as created in 1109 out of part of the Diocese of Lincoln. The area of Ely was part of the patrimony of Saint Etheldreda (Æthelthryth), who founded a religious house in Ely in 673. After Æthelthryth’s death in 679, she was buried outside the church, and her remains were later reburied inside, the foundress being commemorated as a great saint.

The diocese has had its boundaries altered various times. The original diocese covered Cambridgeshire. Bedfordshire and Huntingdonshire were added in 1837 from the Diocese of Lincoln, as was the Sudbury archdeaconry in Suffolk from the Diocese of Norwich. In 1914, Bedfordshire became part of the Diocese of St Albans, and Suffolk formed the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, whilst Ely took a western part of the Diocese of Norwich.[1]

Today the Diocese covers an area of 1,507 square miles. It has a population of 705,000 and comprises 209 benefices, 303 parishes and 335 churches with 145 stipendiary parochial clergy.

Bishops, suffragan and assistant

The diocesan bishop is the Bishop of Ely, whose residence is the Bishop's House in Ely, the former Cathedral Deanery.

The diocesan Bishop of Ely is assisted by a suffragan bishop, the Bishop of Huntingdon.

The Bishop of Peterborough has also been commissioned as assistant bishop in the diocese so that he can exercise pastoral care in several Huntingdonshire parishes now within the effective Peterborough urban area, including Stanground, Orton, Woodston, Yaxley and Fletton.[2][3][4]


The roots of the Diocese of Ely. Until the elevation of Ely Cathedral as the seat of the diocese, it existed as first as a convent of religious sisters and later as a monastery. It was led by first by an abbess and later by an abbot. The convent was founded in the city in 673 by Queen Æthelthryth (St Etheldreda) an after her death in 679 she was buried outside the church. Her remains were later translated inside. The monastery, and much of the city of Ely, were destroyed in the Danish invasions that began in 869 or 870.

A new Benedictine monastery was built and endowed on the site by Athelwold, Bishop of Winchester, in 970, in a wave of monastic refoundations which also included Medehamstede (Peterborough) and Ramsey.[5] The abbey became a cathedral in 1109, after a new Diocese of Ely was created out of land taken from the Diocese of Lincoln. From that time, the line of bishops begins.

The earliest historical notice of Ely is given by the Venerable Bede who writes (Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, IV, xix):

"Ely is in the province of the East Angles, a country of about six hundred families, in the nature of an island, enclosed either with marshes or waters, and therefore it has its name from the great abundance of eels which are taken in those marshes."

This district was assigned in 649 to saint Æthelthryth, daughter of Anna, king of the East Angles, as a dowry in her marriage with Tonbert of the South Girvii. After her second marriage to Ecgfrith of Northumbria, she became a nun, and in 673 returned to Ely and founded a monastery on the site of the present cathedral. As endowment she gave it her entire principality of the isle, from which subsequent Bishops of Ely derived their temporal power. Æthelthryth died in 679, and her shrine became a place of pilgrimage. In 870 the monastery was destroyed by the Danes, having already given to the Church four sainted abbesses, Saints Æthelthryth, her sister Seaxburgh, the latter's daughter Ermenilda, and Ermenilda's daughter Werburgh. Probably under their rule there was a community of monks as well as a convent of nuns, but when in 970 the monastery was restored by King Edgar and Bishop Ethelwold it was a foundation for monks only.

For more than a century the monastery flourished, and about the year 1105 Abbot Richard suggested the creation of the See of Ely, to relieve the enormous Diocese of Lincoln. The pope's brief erecting the new bishopric was issued 21 November 1108, and on 17 October 1109 King Henry I granted his charter, the first bishop being Hervey le Breton, or Harvey (1109–1131), former Bishop of Bangor. The monastery church thus became one of the "conventual" cathedrals. Of this building the transepts and two bays of the nave already existed, and in 1170 the nave as it stands to-day (a complete and perfect specimen of late Norman work) was finished. As the bishops succeeded to the principality of St Etheldreda they enjoyed palatine power and great resources.

The Bishops of Ely frequently held high office in the State and the roll includes many names of famous statesmen, including eight Lord Chancellors and six Lord Treasurers. The Bishops of Ely spent much of their wealth on their cathedral, with the result that Ely can show examples of gothic architecture of many periods. They also had a London residence called Ely Place.

Among the bishops Geoffry Riddell (1174–1189) built the nave and began the west tower, Eustace (1198–1215) the West Porch, while Hugh de Northwold (1229–1254) rebuilt the Norman choir and John Hotham (1316–1337) rebuilt the collapsed central tower – the famous Octagon. Bishop Hugh (or Hugo) de Balsham (1258–1286) founded Peterhouse, the first college at the University of Cambridge, while Bishop John Alcock (1486–1500) was the founder of Jesus College.

Bishop Goodrich was a reformer and during his episcopate the monastery was dissolved. Since the Reformation, notable bishops have included Lancelot Andrewes, Matthew Wren, Peter Gunning and Simon Patrick.


List of abbesses and abbots

Convent of sisters (673–870)

  • Æthelthryth ('Etheldreda') (673–679)
  • Seaxburh (sister of Etheldreda) (679–c.699)
  • Ermenilda (daughter of Seaxburh and Eorcenberht of Kent) (c.699–c.700)
  • Werburh (born c.675, daughter of Ermenilda and Wulfhere of Mercia)
  • ?

Benedictine monastery (970–1109)

  • Brythnoth (970—)
  • Thurstan (—1072) — the last English abbot
  • Theodwin (secular governor)
  • Godfrey (secular governor)
  • Simeon (1082–1094) — began building the cathedral
  • [vacancy]
  • Richard FitzRichard de Clare (1100–1107) — the last abbot

List of bishops (1109—)

From then on, Ely was under the bishop of Ely.

Bishops of Ely
From Until Incumbent Notes
1109 1131 Hervey le Breton Bangor.
1133 1169 Nigel
1174 1189 Geoffrey Ridel
1189 1197 William Longchamp
1198 1215 Eustace
1215 1219 Robert of York Election quashed 1219.
1220 1225 John of Fountains
1225 1228 Geoffrey de Burgh
1229 1254 Hugh of Northwold
1255 1256 William of Kilkenny
1258 1286 Hugh de Balsham
1286 1290 John Kirkby
1290 1298 William of Louth
1298 1299 John Salmon Monks' candidate; opposed Langton; election quashed.
1298 1299 John Langton King's candidate; opposed Salmon; election quashed.
1299 1302 Ralph Walpole Translated from Norwich.
1302 1310 Robert Orford
1310 1316 John Ketton
1316 1337 John Hotham
1337 1345 Simon Montacute Translated from Worcester.
1345 1361 Thomas de Lisle
1362 1366 Simon Langham Translated to Canterbury.
1367 1373 John Barnet
1374 1388 Thomas Arundel Translated to York.
1388 1425 John Fordham Translated from Durham.
1426 1435 Philip Morgan Translated from Worcester.
1438 1443 Lewis of Luxembourg Archbishop of Rouen. Held Ely in commendam.
1444 1454 Thomas Bourchier Translated to Canterbury.
1454 1478 William Grey
1479 1486 John Morton Translated to Canterbury.
1486 1500 John Alcock Translated from Worcester.
1501 1505 Richard Redman Translated from Exeter.
1506 1515 James Stanley
1515 1534 Nicholas West
1534 1554 Thomas Goodrich Also recorded as Thomas Goodricke.
1554 1559 Thomas Thirlby Translated from Norwich; deprived on 5 July 1559.
1559 1581 Richard Cox
1600 1609 Martin Heton
1609 1619 Lancelot Andrewes Translated from Chichester; Translated to Winchester.
1619 1628 Nicholas Felton Translated from Bristol.
1628 1631 John Buckeridge Translated from Rochester.
1631 1638 Francis White Translated from Norwich.
1638 1667 Matthew Wren Translated from Norwich.
1667 1675 Benjamin Lany Translated from Lincoln.
1675 1684 Peter Gunning Translated from Chichester.
1684 1691 Francis Turner Translated from Rochester.
1691 1707 Simon Patrick Translated from Chichester.
1707 1714 John Moore Translated from Norwich.
1714 1723 William Fleetwood Translated from St Asaph.
1723 1738 Thomas Green Translated from Norwich.
1738 1748 Robert Butts Translated from Norwich.
1748 1754 Thomas Gooch Translated from Norwich.
1754 1771 Matthias Mawson Translated from Chichester.
1771 1781 Edmund Keene Translated from Chester.
1781 1808 James Yorke Translated from Gloucester.
1808 1812 Thomas Dampier Translated from Rochester.
1812 1836 Bowyer Sparke Translated from Chester.
1836 1845 Joseph Allen Translated from Bristol.
1845 1864 Thomas Turton
1864 1873 Harold Browne Translated to Winchester.
1873 1886 James Woodford
1886 1905 Lord Alwyne Compton
1905 1924 Frederic Chase
1924 1933 Leonard White-Thomson
1934 1941 Bernard Heywood Translated from Hull.
1941 1957 Edward Wynn
1957 1964 Noel Hudson Translated from Newcastle.
1964 1977 Edward Roberts Translated from Kensington.
1977 1990 Peter Walker Translated from Dorchester.
1990 2000 Stephen Sykes Resigned
2000 2010 Anthony Russell Translated from Dorchester.
2010 present Stephen Conway Translated from Ramsbury.

Outside links


  1. "History of the Diocese". http://www.ely.anglican.org/about/history.html. Retrieved 2007-03-31. 
  2. "Bridging the divide in a city". Diocesan website - press releases (Diocese of Ely). 2004-07-29. http://www.ely.anglican.org/news_events/media/press/details.html?id=26. Retrieved 2007-03-09. 
  3. "Bishops bridge boundaries aboard boat" Peterborough Telegraph 2 August 2004
  4. "Bishop Donald becomes Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Ely" on the Peterborough Diocese website
  5. [1] Consumption and Pastoral Resources on the Early Mediæval Estate, accessed July 12, 2007
  6. "Historical successions: Ely". Crockford's Clerical Directory. http://www.crockford.org.uk/listing.asp?id=697. Retrieved 18 July 2012. 
  • Bishops of Ely 1066-1300
  • Fryde, E. B.; Greenway, D. E.; Porter, S.; Roy, I. (1996). Handbook of British Chronology (Third revised ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 244–246. ISBN 0-521-56350-X. 
  • Peter Meadows, ed., Ely: Diocese and Bishops, 1109-2009 (The Boydell Press, 2010).

Dioceses of the Church of England

Province of Canterbury:
Bath & Wells •
Birmingham • Bristol • Canterbury • Chelmsford • Chichester • Coventry • Derby • Ely • Exeter • Gibraltar in Europe • Gloucester • Guildford • Hereford • Leicester • Lichfield • Lincoln • London • Norwich • Oxford • Peterborough • Portsmouth • Rochester • Saint Albans • Saint Edmundsbury & Ipswich • Salisbury • Southwark • Truro • Winchester • Worcester
Province of York:
Blackburn •
Carlisle • Chester • Durham • Leeds • Liverpool • Manchester • Newcastle • Sheffield • Sodor & Man • Southwell & Nottingham • York