About Bury St Edmunds Abbey
Situated in the heart of Bury St Edmunds, the abbey was once one of England‘s most influential and wealthy Benedictine monasteries. The abbey gained its name from the relics of martyred king St Edmund which were buried on-site in 903 AD.
Ravaged by time and Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in 1539, the extensive remains of the formerly grand Bury St Edmunds Abbey include the Great Gate, Norman Tower and parts of the precinct walls.
Bury St Edmunds Abbey history
The Benedictine Abbey was established in 1020 and given special privileges by Edward the Confessor. Built from the shrine of St Edmund, at over 150 metres long, the church was one of the largest in the country. At the time of the Norman Conquest, Bury was the England’s fourth most wealthy and powerful abbey, signified when the Normans replaced the Saxon church with a massive limestone abbe and an incredible gated tower built between 1120 and 1148.
Around the turn of the 3rd century, the impressive west front was completed under Abbot Samson who also added the great central tower and octagonal towers on either side. Samson further improved accommodation to include a new hall called the Black Hostry, which would house the many monastic visitors.
The abbey was the site in 1214 where King John’s upset barons and earls met to discuss forcing the king to grant them new liberties. The following year, the Magna Carta was sealed. Throughout the 13th century, the abbey thrived although it did not have good relations with the local townspeople, reflected in the riots of 1327, rumbling through the 14th century.
During this period, a monk at the abbey wrote of the dismissal of the Abbeys church manager and the destruction of his houses. The houses were deemed ‘unworthy to stand upon the earth’ because of an unmentionable crime he had committed which is suggested to have been sodomy. The destruction of the sacristan’s houses echoed the biblical destruction of Sodom.
Nonetheless, the Bury St Edmunds Abbey remained significant, hosting Henry VI for Christmas in 1433. When the monastery was claimed by Henry VIII in 1539 during the dissolution of the monasteries, the abbey still had considerable income. While it was stripped for valuable materials such as lead, the abbot’s palace continued to function as a dwelling until 1720.
Bury St Edmunds Abbey today
Today, without charge visitors enter the abbey precinct as they have since the 14th century through the Great Gate. From here you will see the abbot’s garden and hexagonal tower surrounded by dotted remains of the precinct wall.
Strolling through what remains it is easy to see how impressive the abbey once was, and the shadow of the former great abbey is the perfect setting to take a picnic.
Getting to Bury St Edmunds Abbey
Situated just off the A14 between Cambridge and Ipswich, for those driving, take exits 43 or 44 and follow signs to Abbey Gardens Parking. Bury St Edmunds Station is a 15 minute walk from the abbey and links to Ipswich on the greateranglia line.