Bury-St.-Edmunds, Abbey of

views updated


Former Benedictine monastery in the town of Bury-St.-Edmunds, Suffolk, England, Diocese of Norwich. Founded by King canute (1020) at the shrine of King St. edmund the martyr, the abbey was England's chief center of pilgrimage until Thomas becket's murder (1170). Colonized from ely and richly endowed with lands and churches, Bury ranked among England's wealthiest and most influential monasteries throughout its existence. Bishops of Norwich failed to gain control of it, and its exemption was confirmed (c. 1100). Its great abbots included Baldwin (106598), physician and builder; Anselm (112148), anselm of canterbury's nephew; samson (11821211), the subject of jocelin of brakelond's chronicle; and Samson's successor. Hugh II of Northwold, who played an important part at the Fourth lateran council (1215) and became bishop of Ely (122954). Since the town of Bury was a monastic borough, the abbey was continuously involved in town affairs; and since it held by the king a service of 40 knights, the abbey often quarreled with both king and tenants. Dependencies included thetford priory (dissolved 1160) and six hospitals in Bury. Important persons were buried at the abbey; kings paid visits and sent abbots on missions; the abbot sat in Parliament, which sometimes convened there. The number of monks rose from 20 (1020) to 80 (c. 1260). Bury's library had about 2,000 books, including such rarities as Caesar's Commentaries and Plautus. The Bury Bible at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and the Life of St. Edmund in Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, are outstanding productions of its scriptorium. Bury monks wrote annals and hagiography and started a school of monastic history (14th century); they numbered among their authors John Lydgate, the poet (1370?1451?). Bury sent monks to Oxford, fostered the cult of Mary in England, and was a center of musical life. When henry viii dissolved the abbey in 1539, there were 43 monks in the community and little sign of decay. Substantial building had taken place in the 15th century, but today little remains at the abbey site, which is designated an ancient monument.

Bibliography: Memorials of St. Edmund's Abbey, ed. t. arnold, 3 v. (Rerum Britannicarum medii aevi scriptores 96; 189096), including Jocelin of Brakelond's chronicle. w. dugdale, Monasticon Anglicanum 3:98176. m. r. james, On the Abbey of St. Edmund at Bury: I. The Library. II. The Church (Cambridge, Eng. 1895). r. graham, English Ecclesiastical Studies (New York 1929) 146187, 271301. d. knowles, The Monastic Order in England. d. knowles, The Religious Orders in England. d. knowles and r. n. hadcock, Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales 61, 250.

[r. w. hays]