Torch-lit procession and music festival - ideas for Bury St Edmunds abbey millennium celebrations

Members of the Abbey Heritage Partnership. Picture: ST EDMUNDSBURY BOROUGH COUNCIL

Members of the Abbey Heritage Partnership. Picture: ST EDMUNDSBURY BOROUGH COUNCIL - Credit: Archant

An award of £10,000 is helping to get fundraising rolling for an ambitious series of events to celebrate 1,000 years since the abbey at Bury St Edmunds was founded.

The Millennium celebrations in 2020 will mark the “hugely significant” anniversary for the market town, which is home to the Abbey of Saint Edmund and St Edmundsbury Cathedral.

The 2020 millennium celebrations co-ordinating group, a town-wide federation of organisations including the Abbey of St Edmund Heritage Partnership, town council and the cathedral, have come up with first ideas for a £300,000 series of events over seven months and starting in the May.

On Wednesday, February 27, Bury St Edmunds Town Council agreed to support the programme with an award of £10,000.

The plans include a torch-lit procession and light trail through the Abbey Gardens, an exhibition of some original abbey manuscripts on loan from Cambridge University, and culminating in a ‘spectacle of light’ projected onto the cathedral tower in November for a St Edmund’s Day finale.

Richard Summers, co-ordinator of the Abbey of St Edmund Heritage Partnership, said they were delighted to have been granted the funding, which he described as a “first step” towards raising the money for the events.

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Mr Summers, who is leading the applications for public sector funding on behalf of the co-ordinating group, said: “It’s a hugely significant anniversary for the town. It got its name from St Edmund.

“Next year marks 1,000 years since the Benedictine abbey was founded by King Canute all that time ago. As they say, the rest is history.

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“Studies last year made it pretty clear that the shrine of St Edmund is nationally significant. He was the national saint at one time.”

The abbey, which housed the body of the martyred King Edmund, was established as a Benedictine foundation in 1020.

For hundreds of years pilgrims from around the world came to worship at the abbey in veneration of St Edmund, the then patron Saint of England.

The abbey grew in strength and wealth until the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII in the 16th century when it was dismantled and fell into ruin.

Mr Summers said an important part of the celebrations is to involve local people, particularly youngsters, and for the community to come together to celebrate the origins of the town.

Bury St Edmunds Town Clerk Greg Luton said: “These celebrations resonate with councillors, local residents and people beyond our locality.

“The town council grant of £10,000 will help start the process of pulling in funds from a number of sources including the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

“The town councillors were very impressed with the array of activities that are going to take place and showed their support by voting through these funds.”

Mr Summers said local businesses have also pledged funds in offers of sponsorship of at least £60,000.

Other initial ideas for the programme of celebrations include outdoor medieval mystery plays by the Theatre Royal, schools’ art exhibition in the Apex and a focal weekend of events in July including a stage in the Abbey Gardens, a music festival, school performances and a public picnic.

For more information about the abbey of St Edmund see here.

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