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The tapestries of St Edmund

Many people ask about the framed tapestries that hang on the walls of the Church. Where did they come from? Who made them? The answer is fairly simple but their significance is an important part of the history and heritage of West Suffolk.

Olga Ironside Wood was a lady whose interests in the arts benefited Bury St Edmunds, most notably at the theatre and in the production of the town's Pageant in 1959. She was an expert in costume and came up with an idea for creating the story of St Edmund as a tapestry in nine panels, each of which could be worked independently. She approached the Chief Education Officer responsible for the secondary schools in the Liberty of St Edmundsbury (modern West Suffolk) and was delighted to receive his cooperation.

All the secondary schools in the area were approached and, under the care of Jane Page, the regional representative of the Embroideries Guild, a panel was individually worked by the following:
• Beyton Secondary School
• Clare Secondary School
• Convent of the Assumption, Hengrave
• Girls' County Grammar School
• Hadleigh Secondary School
• Haverhill Secondary School
• Ixworth Secondary School
• Silver Jubilee Girls' School
• Sudbury Girls' High School

The outcome was the production of a colourful tapestry that was put on display in the St Edmund Chapel of the St Edmundsbury Cathedral. However, in 2002 the wall on which the tapestry was hung was demolished during the extension of the Cathedral and a new home for the embroideries was needed.

The suggestion of the Cathedral Guides was to gift the tapestry to St Edmund's Catholic Church and this was supported by the Dean, the Very Reverend James E Atwell and accepted in May 2002. Following approval from the Historic Churches Committee, the nine tapestries were framed and sited in the wall panels of the Church. An ecumenical service to dedicate the tapestries was conducted by Fr Philip Shryane on 23 January 2003.

The existence of the tapestries has not always received the approval of all members of the congregation and in 2013 parishioners were balloted as to whether or not they should be retained. The resulting vote was very close with a small majority for their remaining and, therefore, Fr Philip Shryane determined that they should continue to be displayed, featuring in the redecorated Church. They continue to serve as a reminder of the life and martyrdom of our patron Saint and are an interesting chapter from the past - no longer do any of the education establishments involved exist.

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