Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk – St Mary’s

It is ridiculous that I lived about a hundred yards from St Mary’s for seven years – this photo is taken from the track to our house – and yet I only visited a handful of times. It has to be said that when I arrived relations with the Cathedral (where I worked) were never brilliant, and I like to think I did my bit to make them better. We did some services together – including a lovely open air service on Ascension Day in the Abbey ruins – and I was very pleased to see that the current Vicar of St Mary’s is now a Canon of the Cathedral. He sits in what was my stall.

The church is normally open for visiting during the day – I got a good welcome – and their website is https://stmaryschurchbse.org/our-story (though they shouldn’t be advertising forthcoming Christmas services at the end of January). For all Suffolk churches, the photos on http://www.suffolkchurches.co.uk/burymary.htm are so much better than any of mine!

The church website reminds us there was a settlement here before Edmund was killed and his body brought here. It says that Edmund’s body rested in the village church which was nearer to the river – the English Heritage display board in the Abbey ruins suggests it was in a church on what later became the abbey site. This St Mary’s was built as one of the church for the townspeople (there was a third church, St Margaret’s, now gone) – we always said it was built by the abbey, but there are also wills that show rich townspeople left money for it. In 1393 Robert Mandeville will’s includes the line “40d to building the tower of the church of Blessed Mary if they proceed” (I wonder what the lawyers would have done if the church wasn’t built). Two wills of 1442 leave money to the making of the battlements of the church of Blessed Mary – so that presumably gives us an end date to the building.

The church, like the Cathedral, really faces onto the town and you enter off the main drag.

It was a dark day, I chatted to the old chap who was stewarding, and I really failed to look up. I missed one of the finest angel roofs in East Anglia. Fortunately https://www.angelroofs.net/140710-gallery-8 contains some beautiful photos – much better than I could manage. Make sure you have a look. I even managed to wobble the one photo I took of the whole nave. Sorry. The nave roof was probably the gift of John Baret, a wealthy and well-connected cloth merchant, who lived in Bury, and died in 1467, leaving a fabulously detailed will. His cadaver tomb is the north aisle of the church – and I managed to photo that!

The glass in the south aisle is by Heaton, Butler and Bayne, installed in 1881 (I think).

Let’s take ourselves into the Chancel and say “hello” to John Reeve, the last abbot of Bury St Edmunds. He died just a few months after his abbey had been closed down – I wonder if it was just too much for him. I cannot imagine what it must have been like to have to stop the daily round of worship, see your community dispersed, watch the fittings and treasures being stolen or sold off – and being told this was God’s will, led by the King who for so many years had seemed to be such a supporter of your Catholic faith. It is a great “what if” of history to wonder what would have happened if Henry’s sons by Katherine of Aragon had survived and he had remained a good Catholic.

This is Sir John Carewe (died 1501) and his second wife Margaret (died 1525). Here is something I have never considered – did they build the tomb and put his image on in 1501, the add her image in 1525, or was the whole thing constructed in 1525? He had property in Eastgate and Westgate Streets, and the lion by his feet is a symbol of his knighthood.

Opposite are Sir Robert Drury and his first wife Lady Ann. She died in 1494, he died in 1535. The guidebook says that “the tomb must have been constructed following her death, as his effigy has a hole drilled through it, to enable masons to remove it to put his coffin into the tomb.” Imagine going to church for over 40 years and seeing your effigy on the tomb in which you are going to be buried. I think I would look at myself and realise how much older I was getting! It  also makes you wonder what his second wife thought, knowing that her husband was going back with wife number 1 and she was going elsewhere. He had a house in Hawstead and one at Drury Place in London – which gives its name to Drury Lane. He was Speaker of the Hoiuse of Commons and a Privy Councillor to Henry VII.

In the Sanctuary is the grave of Mary Tudor, Queen of France, Princess of England and Duchess of Suffolk (1496-1533). She was buried in the Abbey Church. Just a few years later her body was transferred to St Mary’s when the Abbey was dissolved. It seems incredible that Henry VIII wouldn’t even let his sister rest in peace. Edward VIII visited in 1904 and ordered that the marble kerb should be added.

In the South Chapel I rather liked the painting “The Incarnation”, by John Williams, 1973. I missed everything else of interest.

The North Chapel was built by 1457 and became the Suffolk Regimental Chapel in 1935. The decorations are by Sir Ninian Comper. The Suffolks were amalgamated with the Norfolks to become the East Anglian Regiment in 1959, which became the Royal Anglian Regiment in 1964. There is some footage somewhere of an occasion at Liverpool Street when the Queen Mother named a loco “Royal Anglican Regiment”. You can’t get much more regimental than a chapel like this. All the big military services, as well as the Civic services, took place here, rather than the Cathedral. The Sunday after my friend and colleague Marion died, we had just remembered her in the prayers – as a marching band went past en route to St Mary’s. One of my colleagues used Bunyan’s words “And all the trumpets sounded for her on the other side.”

In one of the windows of the north aisle there is a head of Edmund presided over by a kangaroo (well, it doesn’t look like a wolf to me!).

There are some nice paintings at the back of the church. The first shows the church between 1707 when the north gallery was built and 1712 when the window over the chancel was removed. The other two are by Rose Mead (1867-1946) and were painted c1899. They show different views of the distribution of one of the parish charities in the Lady Chapel.In 1639 Francis Pynner bequeathed 40 loaves of bread to be distributed on the last Friday of every month to 40 poor people who came to be catechized. I wonder what they made of a young curate in his academic dress telling them what they needed to believe before he handed them bread.

Lovely memorials at the west end of the North Aisle – I should have had a closer look at them all. The clock was made by George Graham (1673-1751), clockmaker of London. It was made c1715 and hang in the kitchen  at Darsham Hall, the other side of Suffolk, until 1945. It came to the church in 1977. The ship is the HMS Birkenhead and the memorial commemorated soldiers of the Suffolk Regiment who drowned when she sank in 1852.

The font is mentioned in bequests dated 1506, 1507 and 1512. The stem may be earlier. I like the lions.

The south side of the church is impressive too – a jolly sight more impressive than this blog. Not up to my usual standard.

This entry was posted in Suffolk. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

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