The Cathedral Church of St James and St Edmund, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

How can I write a shortish blog post about the Cathedral where I was ordained; where my four children were baptised (to be precise Theo was baptised at Addenbrooke’s Hospital and later welcomed into the congregation); where three were confirmed; where they sang as choristers (to be precise Hannah was only in the St Cecilia Chorale, the Cathedral Choir is boys-only); where I started as a Minor Canon in 1996, became Chaplain in 2001, then Canon Pastor in 2003 (or was it 2004 – I can’t be bothered to go and find the paperwork); where I baptised, married and led the funerals of amazing people; where I worked with a variety of colleagues, including some great people; and where we had a lot of laughs (and some tears). I don’t want to turn the clock back, and – while Suffolk is lovely – I don’t want to go back … on the other hand it was lovely to meet old colleagues/friends for lunch, have a poke round with my camera, then go back for Choral Evensong, put on a borrowed cassock, read the lesson, and enjoy the Gloucester setting by Herbert Howells (this version is apparently by the Collegiate Singers directed by Andrew Millington).


Edmund, King and Martyr, was killed in 869 – this picture is by Brian Whelan, and is in the Lady Chapel.


His body came to Bury and an Abbey was built. It was a huge abbey, the richest in England until Thomas Becket put Canterbury on the map, and St James church was built on the perimeter of the Abbey by Abbot Anselm (abbot 1121-48). The Abbey was dissolved by Henry VIII – the ruins are now part of an incredible garden – but St James survived as it was the church for the townspeople. The Victorians gave it a new roof.


In 1914 it became a Cathedral Church – chosen above others because it had space to expand. Stephen Dykes Bowers designed a new crossing and chancel, in the Gothic style. There were plans for a tower, but the money ran out. When I came to the Diocese there was a stump, with scaffolding poles and roofing felt.


When Dykes Bowers died he left some money for his cathedral to be finished. James Atwell, the Dean, did an amazing amount of work to raise the rest of the money and worked with Warwick Pethers to get the tower complete. We had fun running a Cathedral in a building site – I will never forget the day, ten years ago, when a huge crane arrived first thing to put the top of the tower on, a huge metal spider. Harry, Hannah and I went to watch, Gareth said he wasn’t well enough to get up. That same day Gareth was admitted to hospital; the following morning he was rushed to Guy’s Hospital – thanks to a heart transplant later that year at Great Ormond Street he visited last summer and saw the Cathedral completed. Prince Charles and his wife came in 2005 – at the dress rehearsal their parts were played by Hannah and her then boyfriend. The members of our Youth Drama Group bought symbols of building and mission to the altar as part of the service – we were very proud.

Neil Collings became Dean soon after, and he got the job of getting it finished – architectural and financial problems to solve! Another amazing job – he was an amazing man. His obituary is still worth reading, several years after he died – this is from the Independent. Since I left the interior of the tower has been finished.


The shields are those of the Church of England Diocese – presumably before West Yorkshire and the Dales or whatever daft title it was (see my Wakefield post). The blank one is because the Diocese of Sodor and Man has not got a heraldic crest. I suggested at Cathedral Chapter that, since the most famous export of the Island of Sodor is “Thomas the Tank Engine”, we should put his face on it. Neil gave me the look that only a Dean can give!

They have also managed to complete the organ – it is splendid.

DSC01311DSC01316DSC01319Also new, with a musical note, is this window – a memorial to Geraldine Birt. She was a member of the St Edmundsbury Singers and on my Pastoral Group – she died in 2005. Miriam is the prophetess described in Exodus as having taken a timbrel in her hand in praise of God, and St Cecilia is the patron saint of music. The quotation in the right hand panel is from W.H. Auden’s “Hymn to St Cecilia”. I also photoed the notice on the piano – see my post on Christ Church Oxford if you’re wondering why.


New – at last – is proper disabled access through the main porch. Well done!


Here are lovely statues by Leonard Goff – Edmund and Madonna and Child. I expect our Madonna was cheaper than Lincoln’s – she is certainly more thoughtful.




Deans may get their names recorded, Canon Pastors don’t – though I am described as one of the “Residentiary Canon Emeritii” on a list in the Sacristy. Every parish has their kneeler – this one, from the parish of Barham, spent many years in my stall. Actually, it is the parish of “St Mary and St Peter Barham” – one day I will go and blog it.


This entry was posted in Cathedral, Outside Northumberland, Personal, Suffolk. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The Cathedral Church of St James and St Edmund, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

  1. Sqn Ldr Alan Birt says:

    How pleasing to see that you included my dearly-beloved wife’s memorial-window in your narrative. I ‘stumbled’ on your blog by accident (or was some divine power at work ?). When I am having a ‘bad-day’, it helps to look at the window for a few minutes.

  2. Dear Peter,
    I am searching for a good depiction of St Edmund for a book I have written about the saints shown in the Chapel of St Gregory and St Augustine, Westminster Cathedral, London. Would it be possible for me to include your photograph of Brian Whelan’s painting? I would of course acknowledge you.

    Many thanks – Sharon Jennings

    • admin says:

      Dear Sharon, I am very happy for you to use my photo of the Whelan painting. However, I am just a little concerned whether the painting itself is a copyright work. Can I suggest an email to Sarah Friswell, the PR manager at St Eds Cathedral – use the contact form on their website – might be an idea to check? She might have a better photo as well. I must come and explore Westminster Cathedral sometime. Best wishes, Peter

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *