The parish church of St James became St Edmundsbury cathedral in 1914. The original church was founded in the twelfth century in the precincts of the abbey. Changes were made in the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries with additions in the second half of last century. The crowing glory came in 2005 when the tower, built with a Millennium grant together with local fundraising, was completed.
In 869, Edmund, King of the East Angles, met his death at the hands of the Danes. He was tied to a tree and shot with arrows. Legend says that his severed head was thrown into the woods and found being guarded by a wolf. Edmund was the patron saint of England, until St George replaced him. His feast day is 20 November.
Inside the cathedral is a superb medieval hammer-beam roof, ornamented with figures of 30 angels. The roof is boldly painted and gilded, and though ornate, is nothing like so ornate as the extraordinary font and font cover at the west end of the nave – a riot of colour.
There is a pair of stalls, each with an attached prayer desk ‘prie dieu’, designed by Stephen Dykes Bower in 1960 for St Peter’s in Birch, Essex. The architect also worked on the extensions of this cathedral in the 1960s. When St Peter’s became redundant the two stalls were gifted to the cathedral by the Diocese of Chelmsford. They are in the ‘St Edmondsbury Gothic’ style of limed oak.
A cathedral is so-called because it contains the ‘cathedra’ or seat of the bishop of the Diocese of which the cathedral is the mother church. The bishop’s throne here was designed by F E Howard of Oxford who also designed the font cover. The design incorporates a crown and crossed arrows which are symbols of St Edmund (denoting his kingship and martyrdom) and a carving of the wolf, which by legend, guarded St Edmund’s head immediately after his death.
The lectern is a figure of an eagle, the traditional symbol of St John the Evangelist, the writer of the fourth gospel.
What impressed me the most on entering the cathedral was the light. Light just streams through the stunning stained glass windows. Most of the stained glass in the Cathedral is Victorian, by the firm of Clayton and Bell. The windows in the North Nave Aisle depict stories from the Old Testament and those in the South Nave Aisle the New Testament. Elsewhere, there is glass by C E Kempe and Hardman. One window has much older glass, possibly French or Flemish, which tells the story of ‘Susanna and the Elders’ from the Apocrypha.
Secondly was the colour: from the windows above to the extraordinarily painted font at the west end of the nave and the exquisitely decorative ceilings and the colourful tapestries.
It may not be one of the largest cathedrals in the country, but it is one of the prettiest and the last to be completed and well worth a visit if you are in the area.
Source: St Edmundsbury Cathedral website and leaflets.