*** DEBUG START ***
*** DEBUG END ***

Tennis courts may hide royal remains

05 May 2017

ANDY ABBOTT

Possible match: a view of the tennis courts near St Edmundsbury Cathedral, located on the site of the monks’ cemetery, where the remains of St Edmund may be buried

Possible match: a view of the tennis courts near St Edmundsbury Cathedral, located on the site of the monks’ cemetery, where the remains of St E...

HOT on the heels of the discovery of Richard III beneath a council car park (News, 14 September 2012) comes the suggestion that another English king may lie buried beneath municipal land, this time a town’s tennis courts.

The monarch is King Edmund, martyred by the Vikings in 869 for refusing to deny his Christian faith. His shrine in the Benedictine abbey in Bury St Edmunds was one of the country’s most po­pu­lar pilgrimage sites, and he was for a while England’s patron saint.

But, in 1539, the abbey was dese­crated during Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, and his relics were removed. One theory is that the saint’s remains were in­­terred in an iron box in the monks’ graveyard, which today lies under tennis courts in public gardens laid out beside the abbey ruins.

It has now been suggested that a dig to find the coffin could be included in a bigger makeover of the grounds that link the site to St Edmundsbury Cathedral.

A writer on East Anglian reli­gious history, Francis Young, said: “The commissioners who dissolved the abbey mentioned nothing about the body, and, given St Edmund’s royal status, it is likely they would have quietly allowed the monks to remove the body from the shrine and relocate it.

“According to a third-hand ac­­count from 1697, St Edmund was placed in an iron chest by a few monks, but sadly the account does not give the location within the abbey precincts where he was buried. On balance, however, the monks’ cemetery is the most likely location.”

A spokeswoman for St Edmunds­bury Cathedral, Nicki Dixon, said: “No one really knows where St Edmund is buried. Some people say he was taken to France, others that he is much nearer; so it’s all a bit speculative.

“We are in a heritage partnership with St Edmundsbury Borough Council to improve the site to create a more open link between the abbey grounds and the cathedral. At the moment, they are separated by a large wall. The tennis courts are run by the council; so they would be the ones involved in any digging.”

Little is known about Edmund’s life. His kingdom of East Anglia was devastated by the Vikings, who de­­stroyed any contemporary evi­dence of his reign. He was first mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chron­icle, writ­ten some years after his death, and later writers pro­duced fictitious accounts of his life.

Tradition holds that he died at an unidentified place known as Haegel­isdun, when the Danes, on the orders of Ivar the Boneless, and his brother Ubba, first beat him, then shot him with arrows, and finally beheaded him.
His head was thrown into the forest, and is said to have been found, guarded by an ethereal wolf, after calling in Latin, “Hic, hic, hic” (“Here, here, here”).

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Awards Ceremony: 6 September 2024

Read more details about the awards

 

Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available

 

Inspiration: The Influences That Have Shaped My Life

September - November 2024

St Martin in the Fields Autumn Lecture Series 2024

tickets available

 

SAVE THE DATE

Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website

 

Visit our Events page for upcoming and past events 

Welcome to the Church Times

 

To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)