Why 2021 will be the year of celebration in this Suffolk town

A spectacular light show, a heritage trail and a concert will come to Bury St Edmunds next year as Suffolk marks the 1000th anniversary of the founding of the Abbey of St Edmund.

Next year sees Suffolk celebrate a historic milestone when the county pulls out the stops to celebrate 1000 years since the founding of the Abbey of St Edmund.

A new 2021 programme of events has been unveiled to mark the founding of the Abbey of St Edmund by King Canute. The celebrations were to have started this month and run for a year but have had to be postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Coordinated by the Abbey 1000 Group, alongside the Abbey of St Edmund Heritage Partnership, the programme runs from April 26, 2021 culminating with a spectacular light show taking in St Edmunds Day weekend.

Saint Edmund, the first Patron Saint of England and King of East Anglia, was enshrined in the Abbey and leant his name to the town. The shrine brought visits from across the UK and abroad including Royalty as the Abbey became one of the most famous and wealthy pilgrimage locations in England.

It was destroyed during the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539. Edmund’s bejewelled shrine was plundered but his body was missing. His whereabouts are still a mystery but it is thought he is buried somewhere in the Abbey’s grounds. Today, the extensive Abbey remains are surrounded by the Abbey Gardens, which are visited by some 1.3million people every year.

A highlight of the celebrations will be the Benedictine Weekend on May 1-2 when 100 Benedictine monks and nuns, plus others from communities across Britain and possibly abroad, will gather on the site of the Abbey for the first time in 500 years.

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It will be the first event of this kind since the dissolution of the monasteries. Composer John Rutter will be writing a special Millennium anthem for the Abbey of St Edmund to be performed by the Suffolk Philharmonic Orchestra in the Cathedral. There will also be three-month long exhibition in Moyse’s Hall Museum and the Crowning Glory sculpture, created for this year’s Bury in Bloom, will be reinstated in the Abbey Gardens.

Community projects include a monthly changing sculpture on display in the crypt within the Abbey ruins, where the shrine of St Edmund would have stood, an Abbey 1000 town trail and a performance of Noyes’ Fludde.

Other commemorative events include a pilgrimage from St Benet’s Abbey in Norfolk and Ely in Cambridgeshire during week beginning July 19 and an exhibition of seven manuscripts from the Abbey Scriptorium, being reunited in their place of origin for the first time since 1539. There will also be several local pilgrimage walks.

Commenting on the programme, Rev Canon Matthew Vernon, from St Edmundsbury Cathedral and member of the Abbey 1000 Group, said; “The Abbey 1000 Group is delighted to announce on St Edmund’s Day that we are relaunching our planned celebrations for the 1,000th anniversary of the founding of the Abbey of St Edmund, here in Bury St Edmunds.

“The Abbey has been a significant site for so long, and in these uncertain and challenging times it reminds us there are good things that remain constant no matter what comes our way. This year is the 1,000th anniversary and we will be marking it with a series of events and activities next year from April, with more to be announced. All the Abbey 1000 partners deserve thanks for their ongoing work on the celebrations and commitment to marking the anniversary in 2021.”

For more information on the anniversary and celebrations visit www.abbeyofstedmund1000.co.uk and for more information about where to stay and things to see and do in Bury St Edmunds and the surrounding area visit www.burystedmundsandbeyond.co.uk

Key events include:

Exhibition of Abbey Manuscripts in Cathedral Treasury

Monday April 26– Monday August 2

Seven manuscripts from the Abbey Scriptorium are being reunited for the first time in their place of origin since 1539. Hand written and decorated by monks in the Abbey, they will be displayed in St Edmundsbury Cathedral Treasury during the early summer. The exhibition called ‘Secrets of The Abbey: History Returns’ features manuscripts on loan from Pembroke College, Cambridge where they were donated by William Smart (Portreeve of Ipswich) in 1599.

Abbey 1000 Sculpture Exhibition in the Abbey Ruins

Late April – Date TBC

A sculpture exhibition with artworks changing each month starting late April will be on display in the crypt of the Abbey ruins in the Abbey Gardens where the Shrine of St Edmund would have stood. A wooden Saint Edmund, ceramic tiles depicting the story of St Edmund and other artwork will take their turn on a specially created plinth. Entry into the Abbey Gardens, and therefore the exhibition, is free.

Benedictine Weekend – May 1-2

An exploration of Benedictine teachings, the Abiding Wisdom weekend will include a unique procession of monks and nuns from communities across Britain into the Abbey Gardens with special guests to be announced next year. The weekend will also feature a sculpture exhibition, display of rare Abbey manuscripts and ecumenical worship led by Bishop Martin Seeley and Bishop Alan Hopes. The celebrations will include a great picnic in the Abbey Gardens and Vespers sung by a Benedictine choir. This will be the first time in 500 years that there has been such a gathering since the dissolution of the monasteries

Abbey 1000 Heritage Trail

Saturday May 22– Saturday November 20

Our Bury St Edmunds Business Improvement District (BID) has created an Abbey 1000 Trail in-conjunction with local historian and Chairman of The Bury Society, Martyn Taylor, and Coastline Graphics. It will include local landmarks, blue plaques and specially designed graphics to focus on individuals including Charles Dickens, James Oakes and some of the Abbots from the Abbey.

Suffolk Philharmonic Orchestra Abbey 1000 Concert

Saturday May 29

A major concert by Suffolk Philharmonic Orchestra in celebration of 1000 years of the Abbey of St Edmund will be held in St Edmundsbury Cathedral on Saturday, May 29. Conducted by Leslie Olive, the new commission by English classical music composer Paul Carr called ‘Into The Light’, is based on texts associated with St Benedict. Its premiere will be performed by the English Arts Chorale and the Eye Bach Choir, alongside Dvorak’s ‘New World Symphony’.

Moyse’s Hall Museum

The Abbey of St Edmund: Artisan and Pilgrimage Exhibition

Thursday July 1– Thursday September 30

The Abbey of St Edmund: Artisan and Pilgrimage in the Liberty of St Edmund exhibition at Moyse’s Hall Museum will showcase the beauty and gravitas of St Edmunds’ Abbey. Special events will include evening workshops for adults that show how craftsmen created the beautiful carvings, stained glass and stonework. Lectures will explore the rich history and artisan work within the Abbey and beyond. Craft workshops for younger explorers will run throughout the summer holidays, along with trails, sensory tours, treasure hunts and hands-on activities.

Pilgrimage - St Benet’s, Norfolk and Ely

July 19-25

An exciting opportunity to make a pilgrimage to Bury St Edmunds to mark the 1000th anniversary of the founding of the Abbey of St Edmund. Follow in the footsteps of the 20 monks who founded the resting place of Edmund, king and martyr, taking one of two routes from either St Benet’s, Norfolk or Ely Cathedral to St Edmundsbury Cathedral arriving on Sunday, July 25, St James’ Day.

Noye’s Fludde

Saturday October 16

Under award-winning directorship, Benjamin Britten’s best-known opera for children, Noye’s Fludde, will be set in the vast surrounds of the Cathedral Nave. Originally based on a Chester Mystery Play, the St Edmundsbury production will be preceded by a newly-devised Suffolk miracle play in honour of the Abbey’s millennium and will involve local schools.

St Edmund’s Day Finale and Spectacle of Light

Thursday November 18 - Sunday November 21

Enjoy the finale of 2021’s celebrations at the Abbey 1000 Spectacle of Light, commemorating the 1000-year anniversary of the founding of the Abbey of St Edmund in 1020. On the St Edmund Weekend evenings, witness stunning images and sound projected onto historic Abbey buildings, as the daylight fades enjoy an illuminated trail through the Abbey ruins in the atmospheric Abbey Gardens in partnership with West Suffolk College. A free event.

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