it is St Edmundsbury. Its popular name is Bury St Edmunds, but Suffolkers call
it Bury. Of Suffolk's towns, Bury is third in size. But it can make a reasonably
convincing claim to be the most significant. Ipswich and Lowestoft are away
on the east coast, whereas Bury is central; Bury was, until 1974, the county
town of West Suffolk. And, more than a thousand years ago, it may well have
been the capital of all East Anglia. This, and then the martyrdom of the Saxon
King Edmund by Viking invaders; his body was brought here to lie in state, and
be buried. A great abbey grew up around the shrine, which became the third most
popular site of pilgrimage in the country after Canterbury and Walsingham.
Bury Abbey had a chequered history, particularly in its relationship with the medieval town that grew up around it. Small wonder, then, that it suffered the full fury of the Reformation, being almost razed to the ground.
Substantial ruins remain, as well as the two abbey churches of St Mary and St James (now reinvented as an Anglican cathedral). Despite their location in a public park, the ruins are haunting, and we need to cross the county border to Ely or Peterborough to imagine what was here before. A third abbey church, St Margaret, has now gone, but the charnel house survives in its former churchyard.
St Mary is one of the grandest churches in Suffolk. St James, or 'St Edmundsbury Cathedral' as it is now known, is also big, but this is a testimony to an extraordinary man, Stephen Dykes Bowers. He began as the architect of the transformation, and ended up paying for it. Many millions of pounds later, his final legacy is the mock-gothic tower that is beginning to rise above the crossing. Inside, everything is safe and comforting, a curious mixture of gothic mystery and Festival of Britain confidence.