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Hunstanton celebrates the ancient legend of St Edmund and the wolf

PUBLISHED: 17:34 28 June 2011 | UPDATED: 20:14 28 June 2011

The carved wolf commemorating the legend of St Edmund, near the spot where he landed in Hunstanton. Picture: Ian Burt.

The carved wolf commemorating the legend of St Edmund, near the spot where he landed in Hunstanton. Picture: Ian Burt.

Archant © 2011

It hardly seems the place of bloodthirsty legend, as tourists take shelter in the tea shops. But nearly 2,000 years ago a boy king landed at Hunstanton to claim his throne, who went on to become a martyr and a saint - or so the story goes.

"Edmund, that martyr of renown, none holier wore the English crown"

11th Century hymm, translated from Latin

As storms lashed the coast today, an outdoor service to dedicate a new monument to St Edmund was moved to the catholic church named after him instead.

“Imagine yourself for the time being standing there amid the ruins and not in the comfort of this church,” said Father John Bloomfield, his opening address punctuated by rumbles of thunder.

“Edmund was a Christian king who gave his life for his faith so we know him as a martyr.”

Things went swimmingly to begin with, after Edmund waded ashore to claim the kingdom of East Anglia in 854AD.

But the Vikings had their eye on Norfolk. In 869, they attacked the kingdom led by the fearsome Ivar the Boneless. Edmund and his forces engaged them near Diss.

Retired botanist and town councillor John Smith - a self-confessed St Edmund “nut” - took up the story from there.

“Edmund was fearfully tortured by the vikings,” he said. “Before he died, there’s a story he’d been shot by so many arrows he looked like a hedgehog. He was crying out for his Lord.”

When torture failed to make Edmund renounce his faith, he was beheaded by his captors.

“His head rolled to the floor,” said Mr Smith. “The vikings hated anything to do with Christianity so they played the most terrible game of rugby, throwing the head from one to another.

“When they got fed up, they threw Edmund’s body onto their camp’s rubbish tip and Edmund’s head into the forest.”

Days later, Edmund’s followers found his body and began the search for his head so he could be given a decent burial.

“Supporters found a huge great wolf and before its paws was St Edmund’s head all tranquil and untouched by the animals of the forest,” said Mr Smith.

A carved wooden wolf has been placed near the lighthouse, next to the ruins of a chapel built to mark the spot where Edmund first landed.

The 4ft oak sculpture, created by Norfolk artist Jean Mulligan, shows a wolf with its head thrown back in a baying pose.

The wolf and the planting around it have been produced as part of Hunstanton’s Britain in Bloom campaign to highlight the town’s heritage.

The oak sculpture will provide a lasting replacement for a sedum wolf built nearby in 2009.

It is also the final point of a trail highlighting the life of St Edmund, who arrived in Hunstanton around 865 AD.

The trail, which is marked by six wooden posts depicting scenes from St Edmund’s life, has been created by the Hunstanton Civic Society and Hunstanton In Bloom Committee and begins with an information board close to the cenotaph in the Esplanade Gardens.

Elizabeth Watson, Chair of the Hunstanton in Bloom Committee, said: “The sedum wolf really captured the imagination of residents and visitors, but sadly high winds took their toll and it was felt that a more permanent sculpture would be a welcome addition to the garden on the top of the cliffs.

“I hope that people enjoy the new sculpture and trail and it sparks their interest in the figure of St Edmund and his connection with our town.”

West Norfolk Mayor Colin Sampson and Mayoress Susan Sampson were joined by Georgina Holloway, High Sheriff of Norfolk, Father James Murphy from St Edmund’s Church, Downham Market and town and ward councillors at yesterday’s service, along with children from Glebe House and Redgate schools.

Two streets, two churches and a ruined chapel in Hunstanton are named after St Edmund. So are St Edmundsbury and Bury St Edmunds - where he is buried.

Wolves commonly appear as motifs on pew ends, columns and stained glass windows in places associated with St Edmund’s story.

Some hope that one day Hunstanton - which became a parish in 1893 - will revert back to its orginal name of Hunstanton St Edmund’s.

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