The correct title is now The Cathedral Church of St James and St Edmund of the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich. Phew!
Some people assume that with Bury St Edmunds having a cathedral means it is a city. Wrong! It is a cathedral town being one of twenty-six in the UK. To be a city the monarch must confer a royal charter.
As we have seen when Abbot Anselm demolished the church of St Denis to make way for the west front of the great Abbey Church, he built a new church dedicated to St James.
Anselm had intended to make a pilgrimage to St James shrine at Santiago De Compostella but was persuaded not to go! The present Cathedral church of St James, rebuilt from 1503, had an acclaimed mason, John Wastell who lived in Crown Street around this time credited with the St James west end. However, another mason, Simon Clerk, was probably the main builder. With the work slowly progressing only the generosity of Edward VI who donated £200 allowed for its completion.
Despite the church being run by Puritan zealots during the Interregnum the congregation survived and is now considered ‘Anglican High Church.’ The 19th century saw many changes. Wastell’s low pitch roof was removed and St James churchwardens, being somewhat envious of St Mary’s Angel Roof, had Thomas Farrow install a hammer-beam roof around 1864, lavishly painted in 1948.
In August 1913 by an Act of Parliament the diocese was created, carved out of the existing dioceses of Norwich and Ely, St James becoming the cathedral in January 1914. This was 700 years after barons met in the Abbey Church.
The reason Bury has the cathedral is that Ipswich did not have a church that could be extended, Bury St Edmunds did; the bishop resides in Ipswich.
In 1960 work started on expanding St James, a new crossing and chancel and eventually a Cathedral Centre to the north.
On the death of notable Diocesan architect Stephen Dykes-Bower in 1994 his generous legacy alongside a substantial Heritage Lottery Fund grant enabled the commencement and fulfilment of his vision, a gothic tower. Known as The Millennium Tower, work was started in 2000 and finished by contractors Bluestone five years later. The workmanship is superb, as is the internal magnificent painted ceiling. “A spiritual beacon for the new Millennium” was acknowledged by Prince Charles on the tower’s completion.
With many thanks to Martyn Taylor whose new book can be found in all leading local bookshops.