Groups visiting Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk next year 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 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 Englands 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.

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 May 23-24 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).

For more information visit 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

PHOTO: David Palmer/Birds I Images