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Abbey of St Edmund celebrates 1000th anniversary in 2020 with year long events programme

In 2020, Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk will celebrate the founding of the Abbey of St Edmund by King Canute 1000 years ago with a year of celebrations!

A year of celebrations is being coordinated by the Abbey 1000 Group, alongside the Abbey of St Edmund Heritage Partnership, with a programme of events from November 2019 leading up to St Edmund’s Day on 20 November 2020.

The first Patron Saint of England and King of East Anglia, Saint Edmund was enshrined in the Abbey consequently lending his name to the town, which was built around it. The shrine brought visits from across the UK and abroad including Royalty as the Abbey became one of the most famous and wealthy pilgrimage locations in England.

The Abbey was destroyed during the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539. Edmund’s bejeweled shrine was plundered but Edmund’s body was missing. His whereabouts are still a mystery to this day but it is thought he is buried somewhere in the Abbey’s grounds.


The Abbey is also known for its important role in the Magna Carta story. A group of Barons met at the Abbey in 1214 and swore an oath to compel King John to accept the Charter of Liberties, a proclamation of Henry I. This act led directly to the Great Charter or Magna Carta, agreed at Runnymede on 15 June 1215. The people of Bury St Edmunds have celebrated this link for hundreds of years with the town’s motto ‘Shrine of the King, Cradle of the Law’, which refers to the historic links with King Edmund (the first patron saint of England) and the Barons’ meeting. 

Today, the Abbey remains are extensive and include the complete 14th century Great Gate and Norman Tower, as well as the impressive ruins and altered west front of the immense church, St Mary's Church and parts of St Edmundsbury Cathedral. They are surrounded by the beautiful Abbey Gardens, an award-winning 14-acre park, and visited by 1.3million people from all over the world every year.


Year of celebrations

A highlight during the anniversary year will be the gathering on 23 and 24 May and procession of 100 Benedictine monks and nuns, plus 400 others, for the first time in 500 years since the dissolution of the monasteries; they will be joined by Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury. Other special events include a pilgrimage from St Benet’s Abbey and Ely and an exhibition of seven manuscripts from the Abbey Scriptorium, being reunited in their place of origin for the first time since 1539. 

Composer John Rutter will be writing a special Millennium anthem for the Abbey of St Edmund and the 73rd Aldeburgh Festival will open at St Edmundsbury Cathedral on 12 June, as part of the 1,000th anniversary celebrations. This will mark the first ever opening night performance at the cathedral, as well as the first time that Aldeburgh Festival has opened outside of the Suffolk coastal area in over 50 years.

Community projects include a mosaic at the arc shopping centre with contributions from the public and a monthly changing sculpture on display in the crypt within the Abbey ruins, where the shrine of St Edmund would have stood. The Bury St Edmunds Festival in May will also be staging concerts to mark the anniversary.

Commenting on the programme Andrew Speed, Chairman of the Abbey 1000 Group said; “2020 will be a year of celebrations! Cultural, musical, religious and civic functions will highlight the 1000 years of the Abbey’s foundation. The Abbey 1000 Group working closely alongside the Cathedral and the Heritage Partnership, aim to offer a broad range of events from musical concerts to religious pageants culminating in a spectacular light show on St Edmund’s Day Weekend.”

Local companies, schools and community groups are being challenged to stage their own events to raise ‘£1000 for 1000’ with proceeds being donated to the anniversary year’s charities. These are St Nicholas Hospice CareSt Elizabeth Hospice and EACH (East Anglian Children’s Hospices).

Rev Canon Matthew Vernon, from St Edmundsbury Cathedral and Chairman of the Abbey of St Edmund Heritage Partnership, said: “This is a historically significant year for the Abbey and Bury St Edmunds and we are looking forward to joining with other organisations in the town to celebrate through the wonderful events and activities we have planned. We encourage others to hold their own events to celebrate too!”

New branding has been specially developed for the anniversary year. The gold and white squares depict the crypt where St Edmund’s shrine was in the abbey ruins. The most important part of the abbey and the gold crown and purple colouring shows the Abbey’s royal connections as Saint Edmund was King of East Anglia. A fly through video of the Abbey of St Edmund ruins showing how the great Abbey Church and the Shrine of St Edmund would have looked during its heyday is being produced using cutting edge CGI as part of the marketing for the celebratory year.

Sue Warren, Brand and Marketing Manager for Bury St Edmunds and Beyond, the town’s tourism brand, added; “This is a historic year for Bury St Edmunds and we will be working hard on marketing the town to potential visitors regionally and nationally to make the most of this newsworthy opportunity.”

The events planned so far can be found at here.

The celebrations are being coordinated by the Abbey 1000 Group, alongside the Abbey of St Edmund Heritage Partnership. The group is made up of organisations in the town that include St Edmundsbury CathedralWest Suffolk CouncilBury St Edmunds Town CouncilOur Bury St Edmunds BID, Bury St Edmunds and Beyond, Theatre Royal Bury St EdmundsGreene KingTreattThe Bury SocietyBury St Edmunds Tour GuidesAshtons Legal and St Edmund’s Church.

The first headline sponsors for the anniversary celebrations were announced as Claas UK, Treatt and Greene King.