Could the remains of St Edmund finally be found?
- Credit: Archant
Hopes of finding the remains of Saint Edmund have taken a step forward with news that the tennis courts in the grounds of Bury St Edmunds’ ancient abbey could be dug up.
It has long been thought that the Saxon King and town namesake could be located in the historic Abbey gardens, with speculation that he may be buried under the tennis courts.
And now it has been announced that St Edmundsbury Borough Council, as part of the Abbey of St Edmund Heritage Partnership, has been granted Scheduled Monument Consent by Historic England to move the courts to a different location in the Abbey Gardens. This means the old courts which sit on top of a former monks’ graveyard can potentially be excavated with an archaeological dig, subject to the results of two consultation studies by Historic England.
To make way for the new courts, which should be finished by summer next year, the remnants of the former Eastgate plant nursery will be demolished.
Last year when the idea was first mooted, Robert Everitt, St Edmundsbury‘s cabinet member for communities, said it would be an “incredibly important historical discovery” if Edmund was found under the tennis courts. He added that the council and cathedral were keen to carry out a dig, but only if the tennis courts could be replaced.
Now that is going to happen, he said: “It would be wrong for us to pre-empt the results of the consultancy studies before making decisions about the rest of the area.”
Local historian Barry Wall said it would be very interesting to see what is under the tennis courts.
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“It would be very nice for Suffolk and very nice for the tourist industry if he is found,” Mr Wall said.
However he believes Saint Edmund could be buried in a chapel which adjoins Holy Trinity Church, Long Melford, having been smuggled out by the last abbot, John Reeve.
As a saint, Edmund’s remains were kept in a shrine in Bury. A the time of the desecration of the Benedictine Abbey, during Henry VIII’s reign, the remains were lost. Academic researcher Francis Young, who was born in Bury, said according to a third-hand account from 1697, St Edmund was placed in an iron chest by monks but the account does not give a location in the Abbey precincts where he was buried.
The legend of St Edmund
Edmund was the King of the East Angles in the 9th Century and it is widely accepted that he was killed by Vikings. It is thought his place of death was somewhere in Suffolk or Norfolk.
Legend has it that brave King Edmund refused to denounce his Christianity and was killed by several arrows. The Vikings then removed his head so Edmund could not be buried whole. But loyal followers were able to find his head after a wolf called to them, shouting “here, here, here”.
Shortly after his death a shrine containing his remains was built in the Abbey in a town called Bedericesworth, which later became Bury St Edmunds and the most popular and famous pilgrimage in England, visited by many kings. Saint Edmund later became the Patron Saint of England. The Abbey was desecrated in the 16th Century when his remains are believed to have been removed from the shrine.