Our current patron saint of England, St George, is a Roman soldier who slew a fierce dragon. Our former patron saint, St Edmund was a former East Anglian King (crowned aged just fifteen) whose decapitated head was reunited with its body with the help of a talking wolf. The wolf is now commemorated on Southgate Roundabout in Bury St Edmunds, complete with Bury Town Rugby Club scarf proudly tied around its furry (wooden) neck as it guards the crown of St Edmund. The wolf is the work of Halesworth-based wood sculptor Ben Loughrill.
Both have been patron saints, and both have supporters who passionately promote their chosen one to be awarded the title of patron saint of England. However the admirers of St Edmund have embarked upon a reinvigorated campaign to have him reclaim the title from good old St George. A previous attempt in 2006 was rejected by the then Labour government after a petition was raised in Parliament.
One of the prime reasons for the reinstatement of St Edmund is that for many, St George has been spreading himself a little too thinly being the patron saint of seventeen other countries. Whilst St George is not subject to the vagaries of a manager and agent having been dead for quite some time now and therefore not having to juggle a packed diary of public events and appearances, there does exist a feeling that we would like our saint to be a little more exclusive. On a more serious note, in these multicultural times, our celebrating a man who will be forever associated with Richard the Lionhearts successful and murderous campaign against Muslims during the Crusades could be seen as hostile to other faiths and especially the Muslim faith. Indeed Richard The Lionheart credited his battle success to his prayers to St George- not quite the peaceful and tolerant image of Christianity as espoused by Christ and one we need more than ever in these turbulent times.
In the meantime, the good town of Bury St Edmunds is a living testimony to St Edmund with the Abbey, which dates back to 633, renamed in his honour and a recently commissioned contemporary artwork designed by Emmanuel O’Brien and constructed by Nigel Kaines of Designs on Metal in 2011. This can be seen on the parkway Roundabout.
Bury St Edmunds is also famous for being the site where In 1214 Cardinal Langton and 25 Barons swore an oath which changed the history of England. Seven months later, they compelled King John to sign the Magna Carta. Not a bad legacy for such a small market town!