These ruins were once one of the largest churches in medieval Europe - the Abbey at Bury St Edmund's in Suffolk. The tower in the background, which belongs to the Anglican Cathedral, was only completed a few years ago. The first monastic community here was founded in 633 and it had grown in fame and wealth after the translation in 903 of the relics of St Edmund of East Anglia, King and Martyr:
He had been killed by the Danes (869) - captured, shot by arrows and then decapitated, his head later being found by a friendly wolf - and his shrine became one of the great spiritual treasures of England. It is hard to imagine what the great Abbey looked like, though some idea of the magnificence can be gained from this surviving gatehouse:
'Bare ruin'd quires' have been very much on my mind these last few days. Not only did I visit St Edmundsbury on Tuesday but this morning there was a very interesting Radio 4 programme on the Dissolution, with some of our leading historians - you can listen to it over the next week here. You may not agree with everything that is said, but it gives an insight into the cunning tactics of Henry VIII.
Then, the post brought me an Amazon packet containing Geoffrey Moorhouse's new book, The Last Office: 1539 and the Dissolution of a Monastery. It studies the Benedictine community at Durham and looks not only at monastic life on the eve of the Reformation and the process of Dissolution but also what happened to the monks afterwards.