Groups visiting Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk during 2020 can celebrate the founding of the Abbey of St Edmund by King Canute 1000 years ago with a programme of events leading up to the weekend of St Edmund's Day on 20 November 2020.
The first Patron Saint of England and King of East Anglia, Saint Edmund was enshrined in the Abbey consequently lending his name to the town, which was built around it. The shrine brought visits from across the UK and abroad including Royalty as the Abbey became one of the most famous and wealthy pilgrimage locations in England.
The Abbey was destroyed during the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539. Edmund's bejeweled shrine was plundered but Edmund's body was missing. His whereabouts are still a great mystery to this day but it is thought he is buried somewhere in the Abbey's grounds.
In 2013 historian Dr Francis Young came across a document that was previously unknown from a monk that said Edmund's body was placed in an iron chest. In his book Edmund - In Search of England's Lost King, Francis Young explores the theory that St Edmund's remains still lie within the Abbey and may be buried in the monks' cemetery, which lies beneath the tennis courts in the Abbey Gardens and consecrated ground.
The Abbey is also known for its important role in the Magna Carta story. A group of Barons met at the Abbey in 1214 and swore an oath to compel King John to accept the Charter of Liberties, a proclamation of Henry I. This act led directly to the Great Charter or Magna Carta, agreed at Runnymede on 15 June 1215. The people of Bury St Edmunds have celebrated this link for hundreds of years with the town's motto 'Shrine of the King, Cradle of the Law', which refers to the historic links with King Edmund (the first patron saint of England) and the Barons' meeting
Edmund King and Saint
Edmund was crowned King of East Anglia at Bures in Essex on Christmas Day 855. A great battle took place in which the King's Army faced The Danes at Thetford in Norfolk and Edmund fled. He died on 20 November 869, now marked as St Edmund's Day. He refused to give up his Christian faith and so was tied to a tree and shot full of arrows before being beheaded by the invading Danes who believed that once a head was severed a person would not go onto a higher plain.
The King's followers went looking for Edmund and discovered his body but no head. They heard a cry of 'hic, hic, hic' from a thicket (Latin for here, here, here) and they investigated to find a wolf guarding the head. The head was put to the body and the first miracle of the future saint occurred when body and head fused. A thin red line around his neck the only evidence of his earlier decapitation.
Edmund was canonised as a Saint in 890.
Year of celebrations
Cultural, musical, religious and civic functions will highlight the 1000 years since the Abbey's foundation. The Abbey 1000 Group, working closely alongside the Cathedral and the Heritage Partnership, aim to offer a broad range of events from musical concerts to religious pageants culminating in a spectacular light show on St Edmund's Day Weekend.
A highlight will be the gathering on 23 and 24 May and procession of 100 Benedictine monks and nuns, plus 400 others, from communities across Britain and possibly from abroad for the first time in 500 years since the dissolution of the monasteries. They will be joined by Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury. Other special events include a pilgrimage from St Benet's Abbey in Norfolk and Ely in Cambridgeshire and an exhibition of seven manuscripts from the Abbey Scriptorium, being reunited in their place of origin for the first time since 1539.
Composer John Rutter is writing a special Millennium anthem for the Abbey of St Edmund and the 73rd Aldeburgh Festival is holding its opening event at St Edmundsbury Cathedral on 12 June. This will be the first time the Festival has opened outside of the Suffolk coastal area in over 50 years.
Community projects include a mosaic at the arc shopping centre with contributions from the public and a monthly changing sculpture on display in the crypt within the Abbey ruins, where the shrine of St Edmund would have stood. The Bury St Edmunds Festival in May will also be staging concerts to mark the anniversary.
Local companies, schools and community groups are being challenged to stage their own events to raise '£1,000 for 1000' with proceeds being donated to the anniversary year's charities. These are St Nicholas Hospice Care, St Elizabeth Hospice and EACH (East Anglian Children's Hospices).
Today, the Abbey remains are extensive and include the complete 14th century Great Gate and Norman Tower, as well as the impressive ruins and altered west front of the immense church, St Mary's Church and parts of St Edmundsbury Cathedral. They are surrounded by the beautiful Abbey Gardens, an award-winning 14-acre park, and visited by 1.3million people from all over the world every year.
For more information on the anniversary and celebrations visit http://www.abbeyofstedmund1000.co.uk for more information about group visits and where to stay in Bury St Edmunds and the surrounding area visit https://www.visit-burystedmunds.co.uk/groups.