Discover the Legend of St Edmund

November 20 is St Edmund's Day and there are wonderful nods to the significance of the former Patron Saint of England across Bury St Edmunds in both art, architecture, horticulture and names.

Who was Saint Edmund?

Bury St Edmunds takes its name from King Edmund, the original Patron Saint of England and King of the East Angles, who is widely believed to be buried in the town. 

The legend of St Edmund, who ruled East Anglia from AD 855 to 869, tells of the brave King Edmund who was killed by Danish invaders on 20 November 869 after refusing to denounce his Christianity.

A wolf is a central figure of the legend. The story goes that after being shot full of arrows he was then decapitated. The Danes believed that once a head was severed from its body that person would not go to a higher plain. The king's body was found but his head was missing. Supporters heard a wolf call to them and they found him guarding the king's head, which was then reunited with his body. Then the first miracle of the future Saint occurred when body and head fused back together.


Shortly after his death a shrine containing King Edmund's remains was built in the Abbey in the town, then called Bedericesworth. The town later became Stedmundsbury, meaning fortified town, and then much later Bury St Edmunds. The shrine at the Abbey of St Edmund, once one of the greatest abbeys in the country, became the most popular and famous pilgrimage in England, visited by kings. Saint Edmund later became the Patron Saint of England.

The Abbey was desecrated during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539 and Edmund’s remains are believed to have been removed from the shrine.

The commissioners who dissolved the Abbey on November 4, 1539, mentioned nothing about the body, and given St Edmund's royal status it is likely they would have quietly allowed the monks to remove the body from the shrine and relocate it.

According to a third-hand account from 1697, St Edmund was placed in an iron chest by a few monks but sadly the account does not give the location within the Abbey where he was buried. His whereabouts remain a mystery to this day. 

Where to find St Edmund

We may not know where St Edmund is buried within the abbey but there are wonderful nods to the significance of the former Patron Saint of England across Bury St Edmunds in art, architecture, horticulture and names:

The Statue of St Edmund

Lovingly sculptured by Dame Elisabeth Frink (he even has her nose!) stands young Edmund, a mere boy when he took the throne of East Anglia in 855. The statue can be found in the Great Churchyard beside St Edmundsbury Cathedral along with a wolf on guard.

Abbey Ruins

The Abbey of Bury St Edmunds was once among the richest Benedictine monasteries in England, until the Dissolution of the monasteries in 1539. It was a centre of pilgrimage as the burial place of the Anglo-Saxon martyr-king Saint Edmund. The Abbey Ruins can be found in the Abbey Gardens.

The Wolf

The 7ft wood carving by Ben Loughrill on the Southgate roundabout depicts the animal that, according to legend, looked after the head of King Edmund after he was killed on 20 November 869. 

The statue of St Edmund at his martyrdom

The iconic silver figure of St Edmunds by Emmanuel O’Brien stands tall on the Risbygate roundabout. The 9ft piece used stainless steel strands woven round the saint’s body pierced through with arrows. 

The Legend of St Edmund Book

A wonderful oak book by Den Humphrey inscribed with the legend of St Edmund and the wolf can be found in the Abbey Gardens by the café.  

Banner of St Edmund

Banner of St Edmund by acclaimed artist Sybil Andrews who was born in Bury St Edmunds and later moved to Canada. It is hand embroidered in silks on linen and first conceived, designed and begun in 1930. The tapestry can be found in the St Edmund Chapel of St Edmundsbury Cathedral.

The Bishop’s Throne Carving 

In St Edmundsbury Cathedral, St Edmund and his protective wolf are featured carvings in the Bishop’s Throne. The Bishop sits there when he visits the Cathedral. 

St Edmund’s Chapel

There is a small chapel in St Edmundsbury Cathedral named after the saint where you can also find the statue of St Edmund.

St Edmund’s Rose

Nestled in the Abbey Gardens Appleby Rose Garden, behind the bench made from the wing of an American 'Flying Fortress Bomber, is the St Edmund Rose. 

The Martyrdom of St. Edmund by Brian Whelan 

This beautiful painting by acclaimed Irish painter Brian Whelan hangs in the Lady Chapel of the St Edmundsbury Cathedral in St Edmund’s Chapel.

The Martyrdom of St Edmund at St Mary's Church

The great west window at St Mary's Church in Bury St Edmunds is the largest west window in any parish church in England and depicts the marytrdom of St Edmund by the Danes. The glass is by Thomas Willement and is based on a medieval pilgrim's badge.

St Edmund and the Wolf at Bury St Edmunds Guildhall

A wolf can be seen guarding the head of St Edmund above the crest of St Edmund in the Banqueting Hall at Bury St Edmunds Guildhall, the oldest civic building in the country and now a heritage centre and venue. This stunning room with elegant chandeliers, was designed in 1806 as an elegant Assembly Room for the town.

St Edmundsbury Cathedral Tower

Photograph by Martin Pettitt (courtesy of Visit Suffolk)

One of the greatest symbols of St Edmund is on top of the cathedral itself. 

The top of the Cathedral's Millennium tower represents St Edmund’s crown. Don't miss the cathedral's tower tours with stunning views from the top where on clear days you can see as far as Ely Cathedral!

Have we missed any? Where have you found St Edmund in Bury St Edmunds? 

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