Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk – Cathedral (again)

I did a blog about the Cathedral back in 2014 and commented that I could never summarise a place that means so much to me in just one blog – https://www.northernvicar.co.uk/2014/07/11/the-cathedral-church-of-st-james-and-st-edmund-bury-st-edmunds-suffolk/. We went back on Wednesday 4 January 2023. Here are a few more photos. A brief history is that Edmund was martyred in 869 and his body came to the nearby village of Beodrichsworth – if you are thinking that Hoxne to Bury is a long way, read my blog on Bradfield St Clare – https://www.northernvicar.co.uk/2014/07/26/bradfield-st-clare-suffolk-st-clare/.

In 1020 the Benedictines founded an Abbey, and churches were built for the people of the growing town. St James church was built on the perimeter of the Abbey by Abbot Anselm (abbot 1121-48). A new Nave was built in 1503, not too many years before the Abbey was dissolved by Henry VIII. In 1914 it became a Cathedral, a new crossing and Quire wer eventually built in the 1960s, and I had the pleasure in being on the staff as the Millennium Tower was completed. It was fun being part of a building site – most of the time we worked together very well, but there was one Saturday afternoon I went across to take a wedding only to find there were workmen banging around on the roof. I went onto the site, fully dressed in alb and cope, but there was no-one in the office. I shouted – “is there anyone up there?” A passing tourist said “if you don’t know Father, who does?” Myself and the builders had a conversation – it went along the lines of “wedding, can you shut up please?” “sorry, yes of course”. They liked me – there was a line in the contract which said that all work must cease by 5.15 pm every day of the week as we had Choral Evensong most days at 5.30. One Monday, when all my colleagues had a day off and I was Canon in Residence, the site foreman came to me about 5 pm. “We’ve got a huge crane here. It costs thousands to hire every day. We’ve almost finished, but we can’t finish in fifteen minutes. Please can we continue working?” I assured him that myself, the retired cleric and congregation of three who usually came on a Monday, were perfectly happy to say Evening Prayer in the garden (and God wouldn’t mind either). Happy days!

Now they are building a Lego model, our Gareth would have loved that. David Cockram, one of our marvellous Wardens is remembered in the Lady Chapel, and I said “hello” to Mary. Leonard Goff, the carver, died a few weeks ago. It was also lovely to say “hello” to the granny of one of our youth group, and to chat to the Head Verger (who was a lad when we were here).

I love the Quire and the East End altar. I got good at celebrating from the Book of Common Prayer while facing east – the old way of doing it. Occasionally we would do it properly – celebrant, deacon and sub-deacon, plus incense – managing to genuflect together, making it look like a well-oiled machine. I was very pleased Lincoln Theological College had taught me what to do with a thurible. Cense the centre of the gospel, then the left, then the right – remember “Central London Railway”. I sometimes stood there, wearing the best cushion cover the Cathedral could provide, clouds of incense rising around me, remembering that for 30 years of my life I was a Baptist!

I sat in my Stall, the stall of St Boniface, and enjoyed the view. In fact I sat in three different stalls in my time there – as Minor Canon, then Chaplain, finally as Canon Pastor. My Chaplain stall gave me a wonderful view of the Christ in Majesty tapestry – watch this video to find out more https://stedscathedral.org/60-second-snippet-vaulted-ceiling/

I wandered up the stairs to the Song School and enjoyed the tapestry of Henry VI praying at the shrine of St Edmund – more details at https://www.burystedmundstourguides.org/the-henry-vi-tapestry/ – this was made while we were here. Opposite is a picture of the Abbey – I can’t remember who painted it, but I do remember it was given by Audrey, one of my lovely congregation at Bradfield.

The other side of the Song School has paintings by Lilias August, who was the project artist. The stone came from the Clipsham quarry in Rutland – everything starts with these blocks of stone. Yellow buckets on the North Transept – plastic buckets and a can of coke bring the project into the 21st century. From Tower to Tower is the view of the Millennium Tower from the Norman Tower as the scaffolding came down.

We also have the nameplate of 86 430 “St Edmund”. It used to run up and down the Liverpool Street to Norwich line, and James the Dean was invited to Ipswich to name it. I was rather annoyed he didn’t invite me to go to (at least I knew what an electric loco was). It was a lovely main line in the days of proper loco-hauled trains and decent coaches. There used to be a Restuarant car as well – in the days when Gareth had morning clinic at Great Ormond Street Hospital, if everything went smoothly we could join it on the way home. First course followed by a treacle pud before we got to Stowmarket. Bring back British Rail.

In the cloisters I said “hello” to the Green Man, and outside to the mosaic we produced for the Suffolk Show in 2008. We had a Green theme. I’m glad to see the Cathedral now has a silver eco-church award (St Matthew’s Darley Abbey has just been awarded their bronze certificate). I am angry that I am writing this on a day when our idiot Prime Minister flew from London to Leeds in a private jet to visit a hospital. Is there any point in the rest of us trying to be green, trying to save the planet, when our leaders are so evil (and I use that word deliberately)?

Let’s go and stand in the ruins of the Abbey, and remember another ruler who used his power to destroy so much.

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One Response to Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk – Cathedral (again)

  1. Basia says:

    wonderful post and beautiful pictures. thank you

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