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Relics pilgrimage

06 September 2013

SIXTEEN pilgrims walked 85 miles to mark the 1000th anniversary of the translation of the relics of St Edmund, King and Martyr, from St Paul's Cathedral to Bury St Edmunds, in 1013. The walk commemorated the last of the saint's own journeys. St Edmund, King of East Anglia, had been captured and was martyred by the invading Danes in 869 for refusing to give up his Christian faith.

His bones did not rest in peace. He was first buried in a small wooden church, close to where he was killed, and then transferred to a larger church in Bedricsworth, that was later named Bury St Edmunds.

When the Danes again threatened, in 1010, his bones were taken to London for safe-keeping, only to be returned three years later - which is what this pilgrimage commemorated. But he still did not remain in peace. Cnut ordered a stone church to be built in Bury in 1020: the bones were translated yet again, and his shrine became a centre of pilgrimage. Like so many, it was destroyed at the Reformation, although there is a story that some of his bones were taken to Toulouse, and later offered back to Westminster Cathedral.

To mark that 11th-century return to Bury, the pilgrims, drawn from Essex and Suffolk, started at St Paul's. They stopped at St Andrew's, Greensted, in Essex - believed to be the oldest wooden church in the world - where the relics rested, and then went to St Stephen's Chapel, Bures St Mary, where it is believed St Edmund was crowned King of East Anglia on Christmas Day 855. There, the pilgrims were joined by about 60 other worshippers for a eucharist presided over by the Bishop of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich, the Rt Revd Nigel Stock, who joined them for their next eight miles to Sudbury. The pilgrimage eventually ended with a service in St Edmundsbury Cathedral, and prayers at St Edmund's former shrine in the Abbey gardens.

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