Who was Saint Edmund?
Bury St Edmunds takes its name from King Edmund, the original Patron Saint of England and King of East Anglia, whose shrine at the Abbey of St Edmund was once one of the most famous and wealthy pilgrimage sites in England.
The story of St Edmund, who ruled East Anglia from AD 855 to 869 and was most likely crowned on Christmas Day, tells of the brave King Edmund who was killed by Danish invaders on 20 November 869 after refusing to denounce his Christianity.
A wolf is a central figure of his story. The story goes that after being tied to a tree and shot full of arrows he was then beheaded.
The king's body was found but his head was missing.
His supporters heard a wolf call to them and they found him guarding the king's head, which was then reunited with his body and body and head fused back together. This was the first of many miracles.
In 903 the remains of St Edmund, the original the Patron Saint of England, were moved to the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Beodericsworth (later known as Bury St Edmunds) where the site had already been in religious use for nearly three centuries.
St Edmund’s body was moved to London in 1010 for safe keeping when The Danes were again marauding through East Anglia but three years later his body was returned to Beodericsworth.
In 1020, King Cnut had a stone church built for Edmund's body and the first abbots arrived. This was the beginning of the Abbey of St Edmund and it became a site of great pilgrimage as people from all over Europe came to visit St Edmund’s shrine.
When the great Abbey Church was built in 1095 St Edmund’s body was moved there in a silver and gold shrine. The shrine became one of the most famous and wealthy pilgrimage locations in England. For centuries the shrine was visited by various kings of England, many of whom gave generously to the abbey. The last time that Edmund’s body was verified was in 1198 after a fire set the shrine alight.
Where is St Edmund?
The Abbey was desecrated during Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539 and Edmund’s remains are believed to have been removed from the shrine.
The commissioners who dissolved the Abbey in 1539, mentioned nothing about the body, and given St Edmund's royal status it is likely they would have quietly allowed the monks to remove the body from the shrine and relocate it. The whereabouts of St Edmund remains a mystery today.
In his book Edmund – In Search of England’s Lost King, historian Dr Francis Young explores the theory that St Edmund’s remains still lie within the abbey ruins today. In 2013 he came across a document that was previously unknown, from a monk that said Edmund’s body was placed in an iron chest.
In his book Dr Young explains his theory that St Edmund may be buried in the monks’ cemetery which lay beneath the former tennis courts, now the wildflower labyrinth, in the Abbey Gardens and on consecrated ground.
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