Could Saint Edmund be buried in Long Melford?
A new theory suggests Saxon king Saint Edmund could be buried under the floor of a chapel in Long Melford.
Earlier this month, it emerged that the 9th century king of the East Angles could be buried under the tennis courts in the Abbey Gardens in Bury St Edmunds.
However, local historian Barry Wall suggests there is a chance that Saint Edmund could be buried in a chapel which adjoins Holy Trinity Church, smuggled out by the abbey’s last abbot, John Reeve, who grew up in the village and had connections with the Clopton family who constructed the chapel.
Mr Wall, who has written several books on Sudbury and the local area, said: “There have been reports in the local and national press that the body may have been placed in the monks’ cemetery under the tennis courts in the Abbey Gardens.
“However, it is known that the infirmary occupied that site, with the monks cemetery nearby.
“If the body, or what remained of it, was secreted away, the only person to allow such a thing was the abbot of Bury himself. It would have been done with the aid of a few trusted monks sworn to secrecy and at dead of night.”
Thomas Cromwell’s men were sent to the Abbey in September 1538 to strip the shrine of its treasures and, just over a year later, on November 4, 1539, the deed of surrender of Bury Abbey to the Crown was signed by Abbot Reeve and other monks.
“At no time is the body of Edmund mentioned,” said Mr Wall. “Cromwell was more interested in the valuable movable goods and the vast land holdings of the abbey.
“Abbot Reeve was a pious man who would have put the protection of the Saint’s body above all else,” added the chairman of Sudbury History Society.
“After the stripping of the shrine, he knew the end was nigh for the abbey. Here is what he may have done, and I base this on what is known of the man who died, it is said, of a broken heart.”
Abbot Reeve was born and raised in Long Melford at Ford Hall, a property belonging to the Cloptons of Kentwell.
When he became Abbot of Bury, he rebuilt Melford Hall, which had belonged to Bury Abbey since Saxon times.
“He would have been aware of the extraordinary chapel John Clopton had built at the east end of Melford church,” said Mr Wall.
“It was meant to be Clopton’s chantry chapel but was never used as such. Instead, he chose to be buried with his wife alongside the high altar in the newly-built sanctuary.”
The chapel contained an empty shrine surrounded by a cloister, which was, at that time, detached from the church.
Mr Wall said: “The Clopton family, well known to the Abbot, would have been more than willing to co-operate.”
The chapel became a school in the 17th century and Mr Wall feels further evidence for the shrine’s use may come from an inventory for the work that suggests the area was protected by screens and not used by the school.
Mr Wall said: “Why did they screen the chapel off? Maybe the owner’s knew.
“The abbot could have sneaked the body up. He knew the Cloptons and he knew the chapel was standing empty.
“There is no tomb there now, just a brick floor, and nothing to show there is any-one buried there.
“All they need to so is to lift the bricks up and see if it is empty.
“It is certainly easier than digging up the tennis courts in the Abbey Gardens.”