St Mary's Church is the civic church of Bury St Edmunds and is one of the largest parish churches in England. It claims to have the second longest nave (after Christchurch Priory), and the largest West Window of any parish church in the country.[2] It was part of the abbey complex and originally was one of three large churches in the town (the others being St James, now St Edmundsbury Cathedral, and St Margaret's, now gone).


The church's full name is 'The church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary'.[3]

The present church is not the first building to stand on the site, the first being built in the seventh century, founded by King Sigeberht.[4] The second church was built in the early twelfth century by Abbot Anselm to replace the previous church of St Mary which was demolished to make space for the construction of the south wing of the Abbey Church.[5][6] However, nothing survives of the Norman church and the oldest part of the existing building is the decorated chancel (c. 1290). There was a major renovation between the 14th and 16th centuries and it is at this point that the nave, its aisles and the tower were built.[7] It is also at this time that Mary Tudor, Queen of France, favourite sister of Henry VIII (not to be confused with his daughter Mary I of England), died and was buried in the abbey church. When the abbey was destroyed, her body was removed and reburied here in St Mary's. Her tomb is in the sanctuary directly to the north of the Lord's table. The church, however, is dedicated to Mary, the mother of Jesus, and not, as some mistakenly believe, to Mary Tudor.[8] A tablet was erected to her memory in 1758. At the suggestion of Edward VII, who visited the church in 1904, a marble kerb surrounds her grave stone.[6]

During the 16th century, John Notyngham and Jankyn Smyth, two wealthy local benefactors, bequeathed large amounts of money to the church.[9] These funds contributed to building the north and south quire aisles, now the Lady Chapel and Royal Anglian (formerly Suffolk Regimental) chapel, two chantry chapels and a north and south porch. The north porch, known as the Notyngham porch, was built in 1437 in accordance with the will of John Notyngham. The south porch of 1523 was removed during a restoration in 1831.[6] St Wolstan's chapel, on the north-west side, formerly held the Suffolk Regimental cenotaph until it was moved to the end of the north aisle. It now holds the church kitchen.

The west window is believed to be the largest of any parish church in the country, measuring 35 ft 6in by 8 ft 6in.[6]

The church is awarded three stars by Simon Jenkins in his 1999 book England's Thousand Best Churches.[10] Jenkins writes:

The interior has one of the largest and most exhilarating naves in the country. Arcades of ten majestic bays march towards the chancel, each rising on continuous mouldings with only the tiniest of capitals. The unusually wide hammerbeam roof is a marvellous survival. Eleven pairs of angels guard the space below, attended by lesser angels on the wallplates and by saints, martyrs, prophets and kings, 42 figures in all. On the frieze a medieval menagerie takes over, with dragons, unicorns, birds and fish. ... The south chapel is littered with pleasant brasses. The north aisle by the tower has its memorials spectacularly displayed. They climb up the wall to the ceiling, a valhalla of Bury worthies.[10]


St Mary's Church has a traditional Anglican choir of boys and gentlemen, with a history dating back to as early as 1354, after which there are many references to singers and ‘childs with a surplys’.[11] This tradition is believed to have remained untouched even during Puritan times. The choir has more recently toured Spain, Turkey, Cyprus, Israel and Malta, France, Belgium, and Germany, and has sung evensongs at cathedrals including Canterbury and St Paul's. The Choir is affiliated to the RSCM, and choristers are trained using the RSCM Voice for Life scheme.[12]

2010 saw the inception of St Mary's Ladies' Choir, and the Girls' Choir began in 2015. Although they are quite separate from the Church Choir, they join for large services, namely Easter, Harvest, Advent and Christmas.[13]


There is evidence for an organ in St Mary's as early as 1467, in the will of John Baret which states that ‘ye pleyers at ye orgenys [to be paid] ij d’. Another bequest from 1479 grants the organist 10d.

The main organ is a four-manual instrument with 79 speaking stops. Built initially by John Gray of London in 1825, it was rebuilt and enlarged in 1865, 1885, and 1898 by J. W. Walker. There have been later rebuilds by Hill, Norman and Beard in 1931, John Compton in 1959, and Kenneth Canter in 1988, the latter included providing a mobile console. The organ was over-hauled in 2009 by Clevedon Organ Services, and is equipped with a 250-channel memory.[14]

A separate, portable four-stop chamber organ, possibly by John Harris (son of Renatus Harris, c. 1677 – 1743) is placed in the Suffolk Regimental Chapel and is occasionally used as a continuo instrument.


The following list is taken from Peter Tryon's book.[11]

  • Ralph Guest 1796–1822[15]
  • Robert Nunn 1822–1863
  • Thomas Bentick Richardson 1864–1893 (formerly chorister and assistant organist at Salisbury Cathedral)
  • Matthew Kingston 1893–1896
  • George William Boutell 1897–1909
  • Edwin Percy Hallam 1909–1937[16] (subsequently organist at St Edmundsbury Cathedral)
  • Clifton Cecil Day 1937–1942[17]
  • Dr Adcock 1942–1948
  • Norman Holdford Jones 1948–1969
  • John Fear 1969–1980
  • David Ivory 1980–1982 (formerly assistant)[18]
  • Peter Tryon 1983–2015
  • Adrian Marple 2015–2018 (formerly assistant; currently Director of Music at Inverness Cathedral)
  • DB di Blasio 2018–2020 (formerly assistant)
  • Richard Baker 2021–2022
The west window of the church

Notable burials


  1. ^ Suffolk Guild of Ringers. "Suffolk Bells". Retrieved 30 October 2020.
  2. ^ "Welcome to St Mary's Church". St Mary's with St Peter's, Bury St Edmunds. Retrieved 16 September 2010.
  3. ^ History of St Mary’s, accessed 15 January 2022
  4. ^ Sandford, John (c. 1961). A Description of St. Mary's Church Bury St. Edmunds (9th ed.). Gloucester: British Publishing Company.
  5. ^ Monument record BSE 058 – St Mary's Church (Med), accessed 21 November 2020
  6. ^ a b c d Barker, H R (1907). West Suffolk Illustrated. Bury St Edmunds: F G Pawsey. pp. 64–67.
  7. ^ Historic England. "Church of St Mary and attached wall and railings (1342765)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 21 November 2020.
  8. ^ "The King's sister: the grave of the other Mary Tudor". Royal Central. 11 August 2019. Retrieved 18 February 2021.
  9. ^ "St Mary, Bury St Edmunds". Retrieved 22 October 2015.
  10. ^ a b Jenkins, S. (1999), England's Thousand Best Churches, London: Penguin Books, ISBN 978-0-14-029795-9
  11. ^ a b Tryon, Peter (2008). The organs and organists of St Mary's Church, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk : with memories of St Mary's choir written by former choristers. Bury St Edmunds: Honey Hill Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9554504-0-2. OCLC 455779459.
  12. ^ Cook, Russell (18 July 2018). "Two choristers from Bury St Edmunds gain the Royal School of Music Gold Award". East Anglian Daily Times. Retrieved 16 April 2021.
  13. ^ "Choirs". St. Mary's with St. Peter's. Retrieved 16 April 2021.
  14. ^ "Suffolk Bury St. Edmunds, St. Mary, Honey Hill [K00927]". National Pipe Organ Register. British Institute of Organ Studies. Retrieved 21 November 2020.
  15. ^ "Guest, Ralph", A Dictionary of Music and Musicians, retrieved 25 February 2021
  16. ^ "burybachchoir – Choir History". Retrieved 25 February 2021.
  17. ^ Biographical Dictionary of the Organ: Clifton Cecil Day, accessed 15 January 2022
  18. ^ Wurlitzer Concert, accessed 15 January 2022
  19. ^ Stephen, Leslie. Dictionary of National Biography, Volume 36 pp. 397–400 MacMillan: London, 1893
  20. ^ Stephen, Leslie, ed. (1887). "Clagett, Nicholas (1610?-1663)" . Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. 10. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  21. ^ transcript of last will and testament of Sir William Carew, and other biographical details probate record,, accessed 21 November 2020
  22. ^ Sir Robert Drury, accessed 15 January 2022
  23. ^ "Kirbye, George", Dictionary of National Biography, 1885–1900, vol. 31, retrieved 18 February 2021
  24. ^ "The Bury Free Press was one of the pioneering papers that blossomed after newspaper tax ended". Suffolk News. 2015. Retrieved 18 February 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  25. ^ a b St. Mary's, Bury St. Edmunds. Clive Paine ([New ed.] ed.). Bury St. Edmunds: Honey Hill. 2000. ISBN 0-9536495-3-9. OCLC 54017286.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)

External links