For more than 1,000 years, the site of St. Edmundsbury Cathedral has been one of worship and pilgrimage. The oldest and most admired of Suffolk churches owes its existence to a defeat in battle. Edmund, king of the East Angles, was killed by the Danes in 869. Miracles were reported at the king’s tomb, which led to his canonization.
His body was moved to the monastery of Beodricksworth and renamed St. Edmund’s Bury in his honor. Later, this monastery was converted to an abbey. St James’s Church was then built within the grounds of the abbey.
The nave of the church was rebuilt in about 1503 by John Wastell, a local mason who also worked on King’s College Chapel, Cambridge and the bell tower of Canterbury Cathedral. In 1914, the church was extended and raised to cathedral status. The original abbey was eventually demolished.
The cathedral lies at the heart of a complex of historic buildings. On one side is the Norman Tower, an early 12th century freestanding tower that acts as a bell tower for the cathedral. On the other side is Abbeygate, a striking Gothic tower built in the 14th century, which acts as a gateway to the Abbey Gardens.
Throughout the cathedral and towers are historical furnishings, such as a medieval hammerbeam roof that is ornamented with figures of 30 angels, significant paintings and elaborate stained glass. Most of the stained glass in the cathedral is Victorian, made by the firm of Clayton and Bell. The windows in the North Nave Aisle depict stories from the Old Testament and those in the South Nave Aisle depict stories from the New Testament.
Outside the cathedral are gardens planted with varieties of herbs and flowers known to have been used in the Middle Ages.
The cathedral building has continued to develop over recent years with the addition of the Millennium Tower, completed in 2005, and its magnificent painted and gilded vault, added in 2010.
The church is still active, holding regular weekly church services as well as special events. It is open to visitors between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. every day throughout the year. Visitors are welcome to tour the cathedral and grounds for free, but donations are gratefully received. For more information, visit www.stedscathedral.org.