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Bury St Edmunds Abbey and Gardens

Until the 11th century the settlement was known by its original Anglo Saxon name of “Bedericesworth” (Bederic’s enclosure). Instances of the name “Seint Edmunds Stowe” have been found by the end of the 10th century, the name arose from the importance attributed to the shrine of Saint Edmund. The name “seynt Eadmundesbiri” or “Byri” replaced “Bederiesworth” meaning either the ‘burgh’ or defended place of St Edmund or the place where he was buried. In medieval times Latin documents bearing the name often laid it out as “Bury sancti Edmundi”.

The Abbey controlled much of what is now West Suffolk, the so-called Liberty of St. Edmund. Jocelin of Brakeland recorded life in the Abbey during the rule of Abbot Samson (1182-1211) in his chronicle. Other notable works include the Bury Bible and the Bury Chronicle.

The building in stone of the Great Church was undertaken in the time of the third Abbot, Baldwin (1065-1097). It was one of the largest in the country dwarfing both St James and St Mary’s Churches. The shrine of St Edmund was at its heart, making Bury one of the main pilgrimage centres. After the dissolution of the monastery in the 1539 the two churches fulfilled the spiritual needs of the town. The great church along with the rest of the abbey became superfluous.

Building work on the abbey precinct and Great Church continued throughout the abbey’s history. Abbot Robert II (1102-1107) is credited with the building of the chapter house, infirmary, rectory and Abbots Hall. Abbot Anselm (1121-1148) founded the church of St James, which is today St Edmundsbury Cathedral. The Abbots palace was built in 1155 after an earlier one was destroyed by fire. The Great Gate or Abbey Gate was once the entrance to the Great Court of the Abbey. The present gate was rebuilt by the townspeople in 1346 after they had destroyed the earlier one in the riots of 1327.

The Great Court of the Abbey became a botanical garden in the 1830s and was opened to the public in 1912. This was the forerunner of today’s Abbey Gardens, which include the Appleby Rose garden, named for an American serviceman stationed in Suffolk during the Second World War.