The introductory chapter of a book is often passed over without the careful perusal it very frequently deserves, when, perhaps, its purpose is to promote a better understanding of the subject contained in the main portion of the work. In the present instance our object is to give our readers an outline—a very brief one it is true—of the history and foundation of the monastery at Ely twelve centuries ago, which led to the subsequent erection of one of the noblest Cathedrals in the kingdom, in order to enable them to understand more fully some of the remarks in our description of this grand edifice as we now see it. To those who desire a more elaborate detail or fuller description than we can offer in our limited space, we would recommend a reference to The History and Antiquities of Ely Cathedral, by the Rev. James Bentham; or a more recent work, The Architectural History of Ely Cathedral, by the Rev. D.J. Stewart, M.A., formerly Minor Canon of Ely.
Christianity was first introduced into East Anglia about the end of the sixth century, by Redwald, the grandson of Uffa, founder of that kingdom; but it appears that little progress was made in his time, although Ethelbert, king of Kent, is said to have founded a monastery at Ely about a.d. 604. Eorpwald, and after him, Sigebert, sons of Redwald, greatly promoted the cause of Christianity, and it was during the reign of Sigebert that the truths of the Gospel spread over the kingdom; three monasteries were founded, one at Bury St. Edmunds, another at Burgh Castle, near Yarmouth, and a third at Soham; and the first Bishop of East Anglia was consecrated. The pagan king of Mercia frequently disturbed the tranquility of the kingdom, and Sigebert and his cousin Egric (to whom Sigebert had resigned his kingdom) were both slain in repelling an invasion. Anna met with the same fate; he was a prince greatly esteemed for his good qualities; he married Heriswitha, sister of St. Hilda, the foundress of Whitby Abbey, and had a numerous family, among whom may be named Sexburga, who was married to Ercombert, king of Kent; Withburga, who founded a nunnery at Dereham; and Æthelryth, or, as she is more commonly called, Etheldreda, the renowned foundress of the monastery at Ely, who was born about the year 630, at Exning, in Suffolk, a short distance from Newmarket.