Lighting controls at Ely Cathedral

Feb. 28, 2024
The new system will reveal more architectural detail while being less visually obtrusive.

Challenge: Ely Cathedral began its life as an abbey church built by St. Etheldreda in 763. The current building dates from 1083 and was raised to cathedral status in 1109.

Now part of the Church of England, Ely Cathedral is committed to being carbon neutral by 2030. To help achieve this, the lighting is currently being upgraded to a more energy-efficient and sustainable system.

“The outdated lighting was no longer fit for purpose, using high levels of energy and therefore costing far too much. The new lighting system gives the Cathedral the ability to control the lighting easily and embrace its full potential,” said Bruce Kirk, director of Light Perceptions.

While the cathedral is primarily a place of worship, it is an important heritage attraction, a venue for music and events, and an occasional location for filming. It was key to ensure that any new lighting concept was capable of showing the architecture to its full potential while supporting a range of uses and enhancing daily worship. The work has been split into phases, with phase one focusing on the exterior of the Cathedral’s Octagon Tower.

Solution: As a specialist lighting consultant for historic buildings in the U.K., Light Perceptions’ assignment was to remove existing flood lighting, design flexible, controllable lighting while offering higher levels of energy efficiency, and abiding the Church of England’s regulatory system for Grade I listed buildings. 

Light Perceptions selected Pharos Architectural Controls to provide the control of the exterior lighting system. This flexible solution allows lighting levels, colors, and playbacks to gracefully transition between scenes, timelines, effects, and pixel-mapped media. With the previous system, it was only possible to use a single color at a time, and the light source was changed manually, which was time-consuming and expensive. 

Equipped with this new level of lighting control technology, the Cathedral can use multiple colors and dynamic lighting to mark special occasions, such as red, white, and blue for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, or draw attention to important dates on the liturgical calendar. 

The Very Reverend Mark Bonney, Dean of Ely, added, “The effect of the new lighting on the exterior at Ely Cathedral is superb. Not only are we reducing our energy use, but the beauty of the fourteenth-century Octagon Tower is more fully revealed at night. 

“It is wonderful that the exterior of the Cathedral can now mark occasions and events through more flexible and controllable lighting. Using the lighting to show support for the people of Ukraine was a poignant moment for us.” 

This article appeared in the September 2022 issue of Architectural SSL magazine.

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About the Author

Architectural SSL staff

In January 2024, Architectural SSL evolved to LightSPEC. While the name changed, the editorial focus -- writing and developing audience-first content about architectural lighting in the built environment for architects, interior designers, lighting designers and manufacturers, and specifiers of commercial and residential lighting and controls -- remains the same.