Wildflower Labyrinth Abbey Gardens black and white Rebecca Austin 1500x390


Ghosts of the Abbey

It has been 1000 years since the founding of the Abbey of St Edmund and unsurprisingly there have been a number of ghost stories over that time. We take a look at a few of them ...

Ghostly Monks

The Monk Abbey 1000 Sculpture Phil Morley 965x540

The Monk sculpture on display as part of the celebrations to mark the 1000th anniversary of the Abbey in 2022

Apparitions of the Benedictine monks from the Abbey of St Edmund are frequently seen walking around the grounds of The Abbey and through surrounding buildings in Bury St Edmunds.

In 1961, two men claim to have seen a monk drift down Angel Lane before disappearing through a wall. A year later, a monk was reportedly seen ‘hovering’ in Churchgate Street.

Enid Crossley, a resident of the houses built into the Abbey's West Front, claims a monk appeared in her bedroom several times. Staff in shops on Abbeygate Street have also made claims about sightings of ghostly monks.

The Ghost of St Edmund

St Edmund Statue Dame Elisabeth Frink credit Rebecca Austin 965x540

Legend has it that the ghost of Saint Edmund protects Bury St Edmunds even to this day.

On Christmas Day, AD 1013 Sweyn Forkbeard , the King of Denmark and Norway, was declared King of England . Five weeks later King Sweyn was dead. It was said that he died in his bed after falling from a horse.

However, there is another version. Sweyn and his Vikings had threatened to burn down Bury St Edmunds and its abbey and slaughter its people, unless they paid a ransom.

On 3 February 1014, the ghost of St Edmund was said to have appeared at Sweyn’s bed and ran him through with a spear. As he died terrified, he shouted “help St Edmund is coming to kill me”.

Six years later in 1020, Sweyn’s son King Cnut visited the shrine of St Edmund and bestowed on it sufficient money to build a grand new Benedictine monastery.

Perhaps Cnut did not want to be haunted?

The Last Abbot of Bury St Edmunds

Plaque which marks the house of the last Abbot of the Abbey John Reeve Crown Street Sue Warren 965x540

The last Abbot of Bury St Edmund John Reeve is thought to haunt the Dog and Partridge pub in Crown Street.

There have been a number of sightings of a ghostly figure believed to be a man in a priestly gown.

John Reeve was the 32nd Abbot of Bury St Edmunds and was ejected from the Abbey of St Edmund along with his monks in November 1539 when the Abbey was dissolved by Henry VIII during the dissolution of the monasteries.

He died just four months later in March 1540 a large house at the southwest corner of Crown Street. The house was demolished in 1854 to make was for the Greene King Brewery. His tomb can be found in nearby St Mary's Church.

Ghost Writer M R James and the Abbey

M R James Creative Commons 965x540

Famous ghost writer M R James, who grew up near Bury St Edmunds, had a lifelong interest in the Abbey of St Edmund and although best known for his ghost stories, M R James' work as a medievalist scholar remains highly respected.

He became the leading expert on its medieval manuscripts and the history and layout of its great abbey church. His 1895 two-part volume on the church and manuscripts was the single most important piece of research by an individual since the dissolution of the monasteries.

During this research M R James discovered reference in an abbey register in Douai to the burial places of several of the abbots. This led in 1902-3 to excavations in the chapter house revealing the graves of six abbots, five of which can still be seen today.

He also became involved in a heated public debate about the authenticity of the ‘St Edmund relics’, the alleged remains of St Edmund held in Toulouse. He doubted their authenticity, and his view was confirmed by scientific research nearly a century later.

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