WEIRD NORFOLK: The field where miracles happened and where St Edmund – the Patron Saint of pandemics - may have been buried

The ruin of St Edmund’s chapel at Lyng. Picture: Stacia Briggs

The ruin of St Edmund’s chapel at Lyng. Picture: Stacia Briggs - Credit: Archant

It may be time to ask East Anglia’s St Edmund for help: he’s the patron saint of pandemics AND he may have been buried in Lyng

From the roadside it looks like an unremarkable – if lovely – tree in the middle of a field overlooking lush farmland in the Wensum Valley. But behind the tree is a remnant from a miraculous past, the jagged ruin of St Edmund’s chapel at Lyng which was once part of a convent dedicated to St Edmund and said to be on the site of a battle which led to the saint’s death. It is here where miracles happened: at this very spot, a woman’s sight and hearing were restored thanks to the Saint’s intervention and if the claims are true, we should all take note: St Edmund is the Patron Saint of pandemics.

It is also a matter of minutes away from The Great Stone of Lyng which itself is said to be a magical, holy relic of the Ice Age, a glacial erratic on the site of a bloody battle which bleeds if pricked with a pin. Phantom nuns are still said to cross the road from the chapel ruins to reach the stone, black and white figures that drift hurriedly across the thin byway at dusk.

Edmund, the Patron Saint of East Anglia, came to the throne some time before 865AD, clashed with the invading Danes and was killed in the winter of 869. Stories differ as to how Edmund met his end: some have him killed in battle, others say that he was murdered after refusing to denounce his Christianity. The latter tale claims that Edmund was tied to a tree and shot full of arrows before being beheaded: his body was found with the head missing but then his supporters heard a wolf calling to them and found the creature guarding the monarch’s head. When the head and body were reunited, they immediately fused together, leaving only a faint scar: this was to be the first of Edmund’s miracles.

There are many theories about where Edmund died and one is that he met his grisly end further up river at Hellesdon and was brought to Lyng, where – as was tradition – nuns looked after his body after death. Joe Mason, of has written a book: St Edmund and the Vikings 869-1066 in which he suggests that the King’s first burial place – before he was interred at Bury St Edmunds – was Lyng. He points to the fact that not only did Lyng have St Edmund’s Chapel, it also had a guild dedicated to St Edmund until the Reformation and, of course, the annual fair.

Edmund’s story was first committed to paper almost 100 years after his death by a French monk whose account suggests that Hellesdon could be the location where the Saint-to-be was killed (the village sign at Lower Hellesdon shows a man being guarded by a wolf, which links to Edmund’s story). His body remained in Norfolk for around 50 years and Mr Mason believes it could have been brought up-river from Hellesdon and to Lyng, where it was cared for by the nuns at St Edmund’s Chapel, which was part of a larger convent. In 1176, Lyng’s nuns (who can be spotted on the village’s sign) moved to Thetford and to the Priory of St George which had also been founded to commemorate a battle between Edmund and the Danes. The chapel in Lyng, however, continued to be controlled by the Prioress at St George’s who began to hold an annual fair at Lyng on the Feast of St Edmund on November 20.

In his book Edmund: In Search of England’s Lost King, Dr Francis Young puts forward the theory that Edmund’s remains are in the monk’s cemetery which has been lost to time and is now covered by the tennis courts in the Abbey Gardens. No less than seven miracles were attributed to Lyng’s St Edmund’s Chapel between 1371 and 1375: one happened in the village itself, another at Reepham, one at East Dereham, others at Scarning, Belaugh and Sparham and most impressively, another in Kent. The latter involved a blind and deaf woman learning of the magical powers of St Edmund who travelled to Lyng to visit the chapel where she regained both her sight and hearing. Another tells the story of a blind man with a boy who sheltered overnight in the chapel who left the next morning with fully-restored eyesight. By 1014, Danish warrior Sweyn Forkbeard had seized most of England and called himself the country’s king: according to legend, the people prayed to Edmund for help and their prayers were answered when he dropped dead after crying: “I am struck by St Edmund!”

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In addition to pandemics, Edmund is also the patron saint of Kings, the Roman Catholic diocese of East Anglia, Douai Abbey, wolves, torture victims and protection from the plague. Now might be the time to ask him for help. And there’s more: while the popular legend has it that after death King Edmund’s head was guarded by a loyal wolf, some in Norfolk believe it was watched over by the county’s very own…Black Shuck. Curioser and curioser…

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