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St Edmundsbury Cathedral

History

Blessed Sacrament windowFor nearly 1,000 years the site of Suffolk’s Cathedral has been one of worship and pilgrimage. The death of Edmund, King of the East Angles, at the hands of the Danes in 869 led to the building of a Norman abbey to house the remains of the martyred monarch, who was soon regarded as a saint.
Several churches were built within the precincts of the abbey. One was built by Abbot Anselm in the twelfth century. He was thwarted in his hopes to make a pilgrimage to St James, Compostela in Spain. Instead he built a church for pilgrims to the Abbey and dedicated it to St James. It also served the people who lived on the north side of the town of Bury St Edmunds. The nave of today’s church is the successor of that church; it was started in 1503. Though little remains of the Benedictine Abbey, following the Dissolution in 1539, St James’ Church has continued to grow over the centuries with alterations in the 18th and 19th centuries. In 1914 St James’ became the Cathedral church of the Diocese of Saint Edmundsbury and Ipswich but it was not until after the Second World War that, Stephen Dykes Bower having been appointed architect, work could start on enlarging the building. The last 40 years has seen the addition of the porch, crossing, quire and part of the cloisters as well as the building of the Cathedral Centre, which houses the Song School for the Cathedral Choir, the Refectory and meeting rooms.

Since 1999 there has been a flurry of activity; in 2005 the skyline of Bury St Edmunds was transformed with the completion of the Gothic-style lantern tower, which brings the height of the Cathedral to 150` (45m). Thanks to grants from the Millennium Commission and the Stephen Dykes Bower Trust and the generosity of many kind people it has been possible to raise the necessary funds to undertake the final phase of building and complete the Cathedral. The whole project, which includes the new North Transept, a new Chapel of the Transfiguration and additional Cloisters, was completed in October 2008. A magnificent vaulted ceiling was added to the Tower in 2010.

 

Architecture

Within stone and limewashed plaster walls, ceilings are vibrantly coloured panels of striking motifs, the Nave Roof decorations, all done with stencils, having been completed only in the 1980s. This effect is carried down by the handsome Font cover, a memorial of the first World war, to the Victorian tiled floor, laid in 1865. In contrast, the floors at the East end are in randomly coloured Suffolk paving.

Attractions

The stained glass windows are mostly Victorian and, in the Nave, relate to the Old Testament (North side) and to the New Testament (South side).

Perhaps the most important Sculpture work in the Cathedral is the Elisabeth Frink ‘Crucifixion’ at the head of the Treasury stairs. Suffolk born, Miss Frink also sculpted the statue of St Edmund in the Great Churchyard, a memorial to the old West Suffolk County Council dissolved in 1973.

The individual kneelers in the Nave and Quire were created in the 1960s. The designs, based on the blue woollen cloth of the Middle Ages, from which the wealth of Suffolk was then derived, represent every parish and many other organisations in the Diocese.

American connections - Martha’s Vineyard is named after a young girl, daughter of Bartholomew Gosnold, the explorer and founder of Jamestown, who was baptised in St James church in 1597. The Cathedral and the town of Bury St Edmunds have a long and friendly relationship with the people of America.

Local Interest

In Bury St Edmunds, Abbey Gardens, Greene King Brewery Museum, Moyses' Hall Local History Museum,Bury St Edmunds Art Gallery
Just outside Bury St Edmunds Ickworth House (National Trust), West Stow Anglo Saxon Village and Country Park
Full details on www.burystedmundstourism.co.uk