Heritage Open Days

We’re offering some exciting new experiences for visitors to celebrate Heritage Open Days this September.


Heritage Open Days is England’s largest festival of history and culture, involving thousands of local volunteers and organisations. Every year in September it brings people together to celebrate their heritage, community and history. Stories are told, traditions explored, and histories brought to life. It’s the public’s chance to see hidden places and try out new experiences, all free of charge.


Our offering in 2022 includes touring the Ancient Library, a pilgrimage trail through Bury St Edmunds, a guided session in the Pilgrims’ Herb Garden and the chance to learn about the Norman Tower bellringers.


The Ancient Library at St Edmundsbury Cathedral was founded by Dr Miles Mosse in 1595 as a resource for clergy training. There are over 550 books in the Library, mainly printed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. As part of the Heritage Open Days, 30-minute tours of the library will be available 9, 10, 16, 17 September. Visitors will be able to explore some of the books in the collection and learn a little more about them with Cathedral Library Guides. This tour is a real treat for bookworms and those interested in history.


On 9 September, there will be a special pilgrimage walk through Bury St Edmunds. This walk follows in the footsteps of the pilgrims in medieval times who visited the Abbey of St Edmund. Starting at St Saviour’s (former hospital), at each stopping point there will be an explanation of its historical significance and then a reflection based on a relevant section from the Rule of St Benedict, encouraging participants to consider how the Rule might impact on life in the 21st century. The walk is led by Sarah Friswell, Visitor Experience Manager and Canon Matthew Vernon, Sub Dean and Canon Pastor at St Edmundsbury Cathedral. The pilgrimage finishes in the Abbey Gardens.


On the theme of pilgrims, on 13 September there will be an exploration of the Pilgrims’ Herb Garden, its plants and their uses. This garden, located between St Edmundsbury Cathedral and the Abbey Gardens, was created in 1998 to reflect the herbs which might have been grown and used by the monks of the Abbey of St Edmund.  One of the Cathedral’s gardeners will be on hand and lead the tour of this small oasis.


And finally, the Norman Tower will be open to visitors to learn more about bellringing on 10 September with an open house on 15 September. A 45-minute visit will include a demonstration of bellringing and a brief history of the Norman Tower, the bells and the art of bellringing. A peal of 12 bells is located in the Norman Tower. The original ten bells were cast in 1785 by Thomas Osborn of Downham Market, with 3 more added between the 1970s and 2000s. The bells are rung on Sundays before the morning and evening services, and also for weddings and other special occasions.


The Norman Tower was previously the main gateway to the Abbey. The Norman Tower is detached from the Cathedral and was built between 1120 and 1148 and is one of the oldest Norman buildings in the UK and one of the most complete Norman buildings in England.


All Heritage Open Day sessions are free but must be pre-booked to secure a space. Check out our eventbrite for more information on times available, and to book.