Bury St Edmunds was once the place where the Saxon kings resided, and a monastery was founded during the 7th century on the site of the present day abbey remains. When Abbot Baldwin began building the Norman abbey church in the latter part of the 11th century, he also built a new church for the use of the townspeople. In less than 50 years, the parish church dedicated to St Denis had been demolished to make way for the enlargement of the abbey church, and a new parish church dedicated to St James was built on the site of the present St Edmundsbury Cathedral. Details of this Norman church are scarce but it is known that the chancel was rebuilt at the turn of the 14th century, and work on remodelling the nave began early in the 16th century. Throughout the next 400 years the building underwent several structural changes and, eventually, at the hands of Sir Gilbert Scott, St James's took its final shape as a parish church in the 1870s.
In 1914 the new diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich was created and the lovely parish church became St Edmundsbury Cathedral. Unlike the vast medieval cathedrals, formerly the grand abbey churches of monastic foundations, St Edmundsbury Cathedral presents a far less imposing feature on the high street of this Suffolk market town.The long, rectangular structure is without a tower, but the adjacent Norman tower of Bury St Edmunds Abbey provides the perfect belfry for the cathedral. The west front was extended in 1960 to provide a porch at the northern side, leading to Cloisters running parallel to the north wall of the Nave, and the new choir and crossing were completed 10 years later.
Inside St Edmundsbury Cathedral there is a sense of light and space accentuated by the graceful perpendicular architecture of the Nave, which harmonises so well with the modern addition of the chancel. The Victorian hammer-beam roof designed by Sir Gilbert Scott was given glorious colour in the 1980s and is now a prominent feature of the St Edmundsbury Cathedral. Ever changing to cope with the broadening scope of the cathedral's work, a large centre to the north of the choir was opened in 1990 providing conference facilities, a refectory, modern vestries, and a song school. As plans for future extensions progress, the day-to-day routine of worship and education continues much as it did on this site more than 900 years ago.
Whilst visiting St Edmundsbury Cathedral in Bury St Edmunds, it is well worth spending some time walking around the ruins of the medieval abbey, set in extensive public grounds to the rear.