Gallery/Bury St Edmunds: Breadth of cathedral life is captured by former warden Pam Pitts

Pam Pitts who has been recording St Edmundsbury Cathedral in albums over the last 20 years.

Pam Pitts who has been recording St Edmundsbury Cathedral in albums over the last 20 years. - Credit: Gregg Brown

The multi-million-pound tower project and visits by the Royal family are all recorded in Pam Pitts’ albums which document the life of St Edmundsbury Cathedral over 20 years.

But the former cathedral warden said the “small happenings” – such as a child’s first communion or the work of volunteers in the herb garden – are just as important as the major events.

Two decades ago Mrs Pitts, who is a long-standing member of the cathedral community, set out to capture the life of St Edmundsbury Cathedral by collecting newspaper cuttings and including her own photographs, which she still takes on a film camera.

Her record has grown to 31 huge albums which will be on display there tomorrow from 10am to 4pm.

Two are dedicated solely to the Millennium Project, which saw the dream of eastern extension architect Stephen Dykes Bower realised with the building of the final phase, including the striking tower which was completed in 2005.

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Mrs Pitts, who is part of the cathedral’s pastoral team, said: “It’s trying to capture the various aspects of life here from the small happenings to the major happenings. I think this is reflected across the spectrum.”

She said she had been “privileged” to be able to access certain areas of the cathedral to take photographs – such as the tower while it was being built – and in 2009 she got to shake hands with the Queen at the Royal Maundy service. But for her a moment which stands out in her memory is the service for the ordination of women in April 1994.

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“I just remember the joy of these women who had been waiting and the time came for their ordination; such an amazing experience that they could then go forward as equals,” said Mrs Pitts, who herself was the first female deputy warden and then churchwarden at the cathedral.

At this point in the interview the retired teacher, sat on a pew in the nave, pauses to take note of an afternoon prayer.

“This is a place of prayer and we remember that foremost I think. And for visitors and everyone just to stop and take a few moments, it can re-energise you really.”

The eye is drawn straight down the nave where the colourful cathedral tower – its crowning glory – can be found.

Mr Dykes Bower’s bequest of £2million to complete his vision of the cathedral got the ball rolling for a major fundraising appeal.

The total amount for the Millennium Project was £12m, with £4m raised through donations, £6m from the Millennium Commission and the £2m from the original bequest.

It took five years to build the Millennium Tower, but the Chapel of the Transfiguration and the Cloisters were not completed until 2008/9. The gilded vault under the tower was unveiled in 2010.

Mrs Pitts’ albums include a copy of a letter from Prince Charles, who became patron of the Millennium Project.

He writes: “When I visited St Edmundsbury Cathedral early in 1998, I referred to the project to complete the tower of this wonderful building as a ‘spiritual beacon for the Millennium’.

“I am delighted, therefore, that the building project is now firmly under way.”

Mrs Pitts said she had “very much enjoyed” charting the cathedral’s life, particularly capturing the main festivals such as Easter and Christmas, and it is something she will continue to do.

“This is a consecutive story. Now looking back it’s quite special to see what has happened here for the last 20 years, and the staff who have come and gone.”

Sarah Friswell, PR manager at St Edmundsbury Cathedral, said: “As we mark our centenary this year, it is good to have the chance to look back at this record of events, which includes significant moments in the town’s history such as the completion of the Millennium Tower.”

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