St Benet’s Abbey

Where did the monks come from to set up the great abbey in Bury St Edmunds? Many years ago I had been told it was France. King Cnut needed literate men to act as administrators for his East Anglian kingdom when he founded the Abbey in Bury St Edmunds in 1020.  Benedictine monks were ideal as literate, self-contained, and dedicated to prayer.

Looking it up now interesting possibilities are discussed by Joseph C.W. Mason in his book St Edmund and the Vikings 869-1066, suggesting they came via Norfolk. Abbo, a Benedictine monk from the abbey at Fleury (St Benoît-sur-Loire) was invited to England in 985 by Oswald, Archbishop of York. He was appointed abbott of Ramsey, a fenland monastery. Whilst there he wrote Passio Sancti Edmundi describing in lurid detail the murder of Edmund by the Danes and the miracles that followed. It is clear that there was a cult of St Edmund developing in East Anglia with numerous churches dedicated to the saint, particularly around NE Norfolk.

David Addy describes evidence for the setting up of the Abbey in Bury St Edmunds in  1020  in the  St edmundsbury chronicle. He describes how twelve – thirteen monks came from St Benet’s Hulme, with others from Ely, making 20 in all. This is now known as St Benet’s Abbey.

I set out to visit St Benet’s on a bitterly cold Sunday in January. The sun was low when I got there and the place was deserted. The wind funnelled off the marshes and through the ruins.

IMG_4211.JPGIt is clear that people love this lonely ruin, with a combination of the abbey remains and a mill built in its centre. The friends of St Benet’s have produced a great website full of information

How did the monks get to Bury? The Norfolk broads block the direct path, unless they used a boat. Pondering on this problem, which occurred a thousand years ago, I returned  to the car with a last glance:



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