Dean who transformed cathedral into leading Suffolk iconic building dies

The Very Reverend James Atwell, former Dean of St Edmundsbury Cathedral

The Very Reverend James Atwell, former Dean of St Edmundsbury Cathedral, next to the cathedral tower. Taken in 2006. - Credit: Archant

A former Dean of St Edmundsbury who was the driving force behind the cathedral's multi-million-pound tower project has died.

The Very Reverend James Atwell was Dean of St Edmundsbury Cathedral in Bury St Edmunds from 1995 to 2006, before moving on to be Dean of Winchester until his retirement in 2016.

During his time in Bury St Edmunds, his "vision and determination" saw the completion of the last unfinished Anglican Cathedral through the Millennium Project - putting Suffolk’s cathedral firmly on the map.

The £12million project saw the addition of the new tower, chapel and cloisters.

Former Dean of St Edmundsbury The Very Reverend James Atwell is pictured at the cathedral in Bury St Edmunds.

The Very Reverend James Atwell is pictured at the cathedral in Bury St Edmunds. He was the driving force behind the Millennium Tower project. Pictured in 2006. - Credit: Archant

To mark the cathedral's completion, The Very Rev Atwell, who loved writing, penned a book of prayers ‘At the Gate of Heaven’.

He was also instrumental in bringing two new treasures to the cathedral - a facsimile copy of the Bury Bible, produced by Boydell and Brewer, and the replica of the Bury Cross, in a collaboration with the Cloisters Museum, part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.  


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These helped cement the continuity of the storyline between the former Abbey of St Edmund and the modern-day cathedral and its ministry.

The current Dean, The Very Reverend Joe Hawes, wrote: "James Atwell will be remembered as one of the great Deans of St Edmundsbury.

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"The cathedral tower stands as his most visible legacy and testifies to his determination, energy and vision.

"However, these gifts alone are not enough to build a lasting witness. It was perhaps his gifts of friendship and faith which will be most celebrated and remembered here in the cathedral and county of Suffolk.

"He built networks of relationship undergirded by gentleness and attentiveness and these persist to this day, as do his writings and prayers, a testimony to a fine priest and friend.

"The cathedral celebrates all that Dean James bequeathed to us and we grieve with Lorna, Luke, Elizabeth and Mary that they did not have longer to enjoy their husband and father.”

A view of the decorated vaulted ceiling at St Edmundsbury Cathedral in Bury St Edmunds

A view of the decorated vaulted ceiling from windows on the way up the tower at St Edmundsbury Cathedral - Credit: Archant

The Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, The Right Reverend Martin Seeley, added: “James will be remembered as a much-loved and well-respected figure in the life of the county.

"During his time as Dean of St Edmundsbury, he brought creativity and energy to the role, and his work on the Millennium Tower transformed the cathedral into one of the most iconic buildings in Suffolk.

"Most importantly, James will be remembered as a kind and faithful priest. The whole diocese joins me in giving thanks for his life and ministry.”

His funeral will take place at Winchester Cathedral.

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