Gate was part of pilgrims’ progress
THE number of buildings once forming the monastery and cathedral precincts still in use today makes the range of monastic buildings in Ely the most extensive in the country. The area of the monastery enclosure was bound on the south by Back Hill, the west
THE number of buildings once forming the monastery and cathedral precincts still in use today makes the range of monastic buildings in Ely the most extensive in the country. The area of the monastery enclosure was bound on the south by Back Hill, the west by the Gallery, the north by Steeple Row and Fore Hill and the east by Castle or Broad Lane.
According to Dorothy Owen in her book A History of Ely Cathedral there were originally two gates into the monastery, one in Broad Lane and the Almonry Gate, at the top of Fore Hill. The latter led directly to the market place and was also important for the distribution of daily alms to the poor.
The gate in Broad Lane was situated close to the hithes along the River Great Ouse. Goods were brought into the Ely by boat, and provided access to King's Lynn, Cambridge, Bury St Edmunds and beyond. For centuries the water ways provided a vital transport system that served thee town with goods and supplies and building material for the cathedral. In time, the medieval hithes were replaced by buildings like The Maltings, breweries and boat building yards, but still provided quays for trade.
Later two further gates were added along the northern side of the monastic enclosure. Steeple Gate where there was the tower of St Peter. According to the Liber Eliensis this was struck by lightening in 1111. This was constructed to allow parishioners of Holy Cross church access to their place of worship. When it was established in the Lady Chapel in 1566 the parish was renamed Holy Trinity.
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The sacrist was responsible for the services at the altar and the upkeep of the monastic buildings and fabric and had his 'office' in the Sacrist's Gate. Here were housed workshops of craftsmen employed in building works and the general upkeep of the monastery and cathedral.
The sacrist also had oversight of the two parishes of Ely, St Mary's and Holy Cross. The landholdings of these parishes were west of the town and in 1109 Bishop Hervey granted the sacrist the church of St Mary and the tithe of Barton. By the end of the 13th century a huge sextry barn had been built close to St Mary's Church, where the Parson's almshouses are found today.
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In 1397 Prior Walpole started to build another gateway, this time to the south of the monastery boundary, at the top of Back Hill. Sometimes called Walpole's Gate it is now better known as the Porta.
The gate also became the entrance that pilgrims passed through to visit the shrines of St Etheldreda and her sisters Seaxburga, Withburga and niece, Erminilda, all saints as well. The pilgrimage took place in October, the feast day for St Etheldreda, which commemorated the translation of her body. Henry I granted 'to the Church of Ely and Hervey the Bishop a seven-day fair, on St Etheldreda's feast and for three days before and after.' This helped to swell the coffers of the Barton estate and provide money for further building work.