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Brand New Town Trail to Celebrate Abbey's Anniversary

As Bury St Edmunds celebrates the 1,000th year anniversary of the founding of the Abbey of St Edmund, a new town trail will shine a light on figures and events from the town's past.

Visitors will be able to follow the free self guiding town trail to discover 20 landmarks, blue plaques and specially designed graphics which provide clues to the town's history.

The Abbey 1000 Heritage Trail will run from May 23 to St Edmund’s Day on November 20. Free trail leaflets will be available from the town's visitor information points and visitors will have the chance to win prizes for completing the trail.

Organised by Mark Cordell, Chief Executive of Our Bury St Edmunds, with help from historian, local author and Chairman of The Bury Society Martyn Taylor, the trail focuses on individuals who have a connection to the town or played a key role in its history such as the Abbey’s Abbots, Charles Dickens, Sybil Andrews and James Oakes.


Mark, who was involved in previous town trails which focused on the St Edmund wolf, World War One and the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds, said: “We know that these attract people into the town as they can participate for free and whilst there take advantage of some of the great shops and food and drink businesses in the town,” he said.

“As this year is so significant for the town with the Abbey 1,000 celebrations, it seemed wholly appropriate for the focus of this year’s trail to be linked to the history of the town over the past 1,000 years.”


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 the weekend of 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.


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, from communities across Britain and possibly from abroad 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 in Norfolk and Ely in Cambridgeshire 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 www.burystedmundsandbeyond.co.uk 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.

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. The gold crown and purple colouring pay tribute to 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.

For more information on the anniversary and celebrations visit www.abbeyofstedmund1000.co.uk and for more information about where to stay and things to see and do in Bury St Edmunds and the surrounding area visit www.burystedmundsandbeyond.co.uk.

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