Edmund was the young King of East Anglia, the area in Eastern England that juts into the North Sea. It was then a watery landscape, with creeks and inlets and very few human settlements of any size. Edmund was killed by invading Viking pirates in November 869 and, like Olav, was immediately honoured as a martyr. When his followers recovered his body it was riddled with arrow wounds and the head was nowhere to be found until someone heard a voice calling from the brambles, where they found a wolf guarding the King’s head between its paws.
Edmund’s grave became a place of pilgrimage, encouraged by the Danish King of England, and also of Denmark and Norway, Canute (r 1018-1035). He himself was an invader, responsible for the deaths of King Ethelred the Unready and many warriors as well as Saint Olav in Norway. A repentant Canute established Edmund’s shrine in the Benedictine Abbey of Bury Saint Edmund’s 900 years ago in 1022. It was further enhanced after 1066 by the Norman kings, themselves Viking invaders, responsible for the deaths of King Harold, many warriors and countless civilians. See here an account of some of the ecumenical Millennial celebrations in May. Events continue during 2022: www.visit-burystedmunds.co.uk/abbey-1000
The Benedictine Abbey of Saint Edmund, patronised by English monarchs for centuries, was destroyed during the Reformation, though considerable ruins remain. The bones of King Edmund are reported to have been sealed in an iron chest and hidden, underground or under water. So far no archaeological survey has turned them up, but within the precincts of the former Abbey the pilgrim church of Saint James was chosen as the Cathedral for the Anglican diocese serving Suffolk: Saint Edmundsbury and Ipswich.
We did not get as far as the Catholic church of Saint Edmund, King and Martyr, but it is old for an English Catholic church, dating from 1791 for the present building, although the original, hidden chapel still stands hidden behind the presbytery, as it had to be in 1760, thirty years before Penal Laws against Catholics were abolished. It must have been a brave community that came together to worship illegally.
We must return!