Host of events planned to mark 1000 year celebration of the Abbey of St Edmund

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A new 2021 programme of events to mark 1,000 years since the founding of the Abbey of St Edmund by King Canute was announced today to coincide with St Edmund’s Day.

Several of the events were originally planned for this year but were postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Co-ordinated by the Abbey 1000 Group, alongside the Abbey of St Edmund Heritage Partnership, the programme runs from April 26 culminating with a spectacular light show taking in St Edmund’s Day weekend 2021.

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

It was destroyed during the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539. Edmund’s bejeweled shrine was plundered but his body was missing. His whereabouts are still a mystery but it is thought he is buried somewhere in the Abbey’s grounds. Today, the extensive Abbey remains are surrounded by the Abbey Gardens, which are visited by some 1.3 million people every year.

A highlight will be the Benedictine Weekend on May 1 and 2 when 100 Benedictine monks and nuns, plus others from communities across Britain and possibly abroad, will gather for the first time in 500 years since the dissolution of the monasteries.

Other special events include a pilgrimage from St Benet’s Abbey, in Norfolk, and Ely, in Cambridgeshire, during week beginning July 19 and an exhibition of seven manuscripts from the Abbey Scriptorium, being reunited in their place of origin for the first time since 1539.  There will also be several local pilgrimage walks.

Composer John Rutter will be writing a special Millennium anthem for the Abbey of St Edmund to be performed by the Suffolk Philharmonic Orchestra in the Cathedral. There will also be three-month long exhibition in Moyse’s Hall Museum and the Crowning Glory sculpture, created for this year’s Bury in Bloom, will be reinstated in the Abbey Gardens.

Community projects include a monthly changing sculpture on display in the crypt within the Abbey ruins, where the shrine of St Edmund would have stood, an Abbey 1000 town trail and a performance of Noyes’ Fludde.

Commenting on the programme, Rev Canon Matthew Vernon, from St Edmundsbury Cathedral and member of the Abbey 1000 Group, said; “The Abbey 1000 Group is delighted to announce on St Edmund’s Day that we are relaunching our planned celebrations for the 1,000th anniversary of the founding of the Abbey of St Edmund, here in Bury St Edmunds.

“The Abbey has been a significant site for so long, and in these uncertain and challenging times it reminds us there are good things that remain constant no matter what comes our way. This year is the 1,000th anniversary and we will be marking it with a series of events and activities next year from April, with more to be announced. All the Abbey 1000 partners deserve thanks for their ongoing work on the celebrations and commitment to marking the anniversary in 2021.”

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 visitwww.burystedmundsandbeyond.co.uk

Key events planned to date include:

Exhibition of Abbey Manuscripts in Cathedral Treasury

Monday, April 26 to Monday, August 2

Seven manuscripts from the Abbey Scriptorium are being reunited for the first time in their place of origin since 1539. Hand written and decorated by monks in the Abbey, they will be displayed in St Edmundsbury Cathedral Treasury. The exhibition called “Secrets of The Abbey: History Returns” features manuscripts on loan from Pembroke College, Cambridge where they were donated by William Smart (Portreeve of Ipswich) in 1599.

Abbey 1000 Sculpture Exhibition in the Abbey Ruins

From late April

A sculpture exhibition with artworks changing each month starting late April will be on display in the crypt of the Abbey ruins in the Abbey Gardens where the Shrine of St Edmund would have stood. A wooden Saint Edmund, ceramic tiles depicting the story of St Edmund and other artwork will take their turn on a specially created plinth. Entry into the Abbey Gardens, and therefore the exhibition, is free.

Local pilgrimage walks

From late April

There will be a programme of local pilgrimage walks to St Edmundsbury Cathedral, details and dates to be announced.

Benedictine Weekend – Saturday and Sunday, May 1 and 2

An exploration of Benedictine teachings, the Abiding Wisdom weekend will include a unique procession of monks and nuns from communities across Britain into the Abbey Gardens with special guests to be announced next year. The weekend will also feature a sculpture exhibition, display of rare Abbey manuscripts and ecumenical worship led by Bishop Martin Seeley and Bishop Alan Hopes. The celebrations will include a great picnic in the Abbey Gardens and Vespers sung by a Benedictine choir. This will be the first time in 500 years that there has been such a gathering since the dissolution of the monasteries

Abbey 1000 Heritage Trail

Saturday May 22 to Saturday, November 20

Our Bury St Edmunds Business Improvement District (BID) has created an Abbey 1000 Trail in-conjunction with local historian and chairman of The Bury Society, Martyn Taylor, and Coastline Graphics. It will include local landmarks, blue plaques and specially designed graphics to focus on individuals including Charles Dickens, James Oakes and some of the Abbots from the Abbey. The Abbey 1000 Heritage Trial will be supported by a leaflet and prize shopping vouchers for those completing the trail.

Suffolk Philharmonic Orchestra Abbey 1000 Concert

Saturday, May 29

A major concert by Suffolk Philharmonic Orchestra in celebration of 1000 years of the Abbey of St Edmund will be held in St Edmundsbury Cathedral. Conducted by Leslie Olive, the new commission by English classical music composer Paul Carr called “Into The Light”, is based on texts associated with St Benedict. Its premiere will be performed by the English Arts Chorale and the Eye Bach Choir, alongside Dvorak’s ‘New World Symphony’. More details, including ticket information coming soon.

Crowning Glory in the Abbey Gardens

From May

Crowning Glory, an intriguing sculpture created from recycled materials and inspired by the St Edmund Crown, was installed in the Abbey Gardens for the 2020 Bury in Bloom. It will be reinstated during May as part of the Abbey 1000 celebrations where it will remain until the autumn. Designed by Michelle Freeman of The Crafty Foxes, the 2m high crown was filled with 500 “jewels” made from the bases of plastic bottles and decorated by families, clubs, care home residents and individuals under lockdown.

Moyse’s Hall Museum: The Abbey of St Edmund: Artisan and Pilgrimage Exhibition

Thursday, July 1 to Thursday, September 30

The exhibition will showcase the beauty and gravitas of St Edmund’s Abbey. It will also focus on the people who travelled great distances to view the tomb of the martyred king.  Special events will include evening workshops for adults that show how craftsmen created the beautiful carvings, stained glass and stonework. Lectures will explore the rich history and artisan work within the Abbey and beyond. Craft workshops for younger explorers will run throughout the summer holidays, along with trails, sensory tours, treasure hunts and hands-on activities. The museum’s work with Horrible Histories author and creator, Terry Deary, will show the other side of medieval life. Under the banner of the “Terrible Tales” of Moyse’s Hall, visitors can smell, touch and see what made a medieval Abbey town so beautifully disgusting.

Pilgrimage  – St Benet’s, Norfolk and Ely

Monday to Sunday, July 19 to 25

An exciting opportunity to make a pilgrimage to Bury St Edmunds to mark the 1000th anniversary of the founding of the Abbey of St Edmund. Follow in the footsteps of the 20 monks who founded the resting place of Edmund, king and martyr, taking one of two routes from either St Benet’s, Norfolk, or Ely Cathedral, to St Edmundsbury Cathedral arriving on Sunday, July 25, St James’ Day (St James is the Patron Saint of Pilgrimage). King Canute founded Benedictine monks at St Benet’s Abbey in 1019; Uvius, the first Abbot at the Abbey of St Edmund (1020-1044) came from St Benet’s accompanied by 20 monks, believed to be 13 from St Benet’s and seven from Ely.

St Benet’s, Norfolk, to Bury St Edmunds: (80 miles)

Ely Cathedral to Bury St Edmunds: (30 miles)

Day pilgrims are welcome. Booking essential by emailing precentor@stedscathedral.org

Noye’s Fludde

Saturday, October 16

Under award-winning directorship, Benjamin Britten’s best-known opera for children, Noye’s Fludde, will be set in the vast surrounds of the Cathedral Nave. Originally based on a Chester Mystery Play, the St Edmundsbury production will be preceded by a newly-devised Suffolk miracle play in honour of the Abbey’s millennium and will involve local schools.

St Edmund’s Day Finale and Spectacle of Light

Thursday to Sunday, November 18 to 21

Enjoy the finale of 2021’s celebrations at the Abbey 1000 Spectacle of Light, commemorating the 1000-year anniversary of the founding of the Abbey of St Edmund in 1020. On the St Edmund weekend evenings, witness stunning images and sound projected onto historic Abbey buildings, as the daylight fades enjoy an illuminated trail through the Abbey ruins in the atmospheric Abbey Gardens in partnership with West Suffolk College. A free event.

Abbey 1000 Celebrations

While individual organisations, businesses and groups are organising their own events for the celebrations, the overall co-ordination is being carried out 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 Cathedral, West Suffolk Council, Bury St Edmunds Town Council, Our Bury St Edmunds BID, Bury St Edmunds and Beyond, Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds, Greene King, Treatt, The Bury Society, Bury St Edmunds Tour Guides, Ashtons Legal and St Edmund’s Church.

Pictured above is Rev Canon Matthew Vernon, Melanie Lesser from Bury St Edmunds and Beyond and Martyn Taylor from The Bury Society. 

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