Wednesday, July 11, 2012

St.Benedict and England

As today is the feast of St. Benedict, patron saint of Europe, it's appropriate to look at the Benedictine order in England, before and after the English Reformation. Of course, the crucial events of that history are the foundation of the great Benedictine, Cluniac and Cistercian monasteries throughout England, their suppression and destruction during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and finally their revival after Catholic Emancipation in 1829 and the Restoration of the Hierarchy in 1850. (The image on the right is courtesy of wikipedia commons, depicting the ruins of Whitby Abbey at sunset.)

The current English Benedictine Congregation sketches that history, noting that the preservation of the link between pre-Reformation Benedictine monasticism in England came down to one survivor in 1607, in the early years of James I's reign:

The present day English Congregation can claim canonical continuity with the congregation erected in the thirteenth century by the Holy See. The oldest monasteries of that congregation claimed continuity with the monasteries restored by Ss Dunstan, Ethelwold and Oswald in the tenth century. These monasteries had bound themselves together by a document known as the Regularis Concordia or Rule of Agreement. These monasteries in turn claimed moral continuity with the monasteries founded by Ss Wilfrid and Benet Biscop in the seventh century, who in turn were inspired by what they saw at St Augustine’s monastery at Canterbury. St Augustine had been a monk at Pope Gregory the Great’s monastery in Rome and had been sent by the Pope to England in 597. The seventh century monasteries had been destroyed by the Viking invaders in the ninth century.

From the tenth to the sixteenth century the black monks of St Benedict played an integral part in every aspect of English life: religious, social and economic. Under King Henry VIII the congregation nearly came to extinction with the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s. Queen Mary I took the ancient royal Abbey of Westminster, refounded by King Edward the Confessor in the eleventh century, and restored it to a surviving band of monks on 21 November 1556. However, this revival ceased on the accession of Elizabeth I in 1558.

By 1607 only one monk of the pre-Reformation congregation survived, Dom Sigebert Buckley. On 21 November 1607 he aggregated two young English monks of the Cassinese Congregation to the English Congregation, thus ensuring a moral continuity of the link to St Augustine. These two monks joined other English monks exiled in France who were training for work on the English mission. It is through this missionary work that the present day congregation finds part of its work in parochial duties throughout the country.

By the nineteenth century monasteries were once again established in England. The monks from Douai came to England in 1795 to Acton Burnell, in Shropshire, the seat of Sir Edward Smythe, relocating to their current home at Downside near Bristol in 1814. Those of St Laurence's, Dieulouard, coming to Ampleforth near York in 1802. The monks of St Edmund’s in Paris moved first to Douai after the French Revolution and returned to England to Douai near Reading in 1903. The nuns in Cambrai moved to Woolton, then Salford (Warks), finally Stanbrook near Worcester in 1838, and those from Paris to Cannington, then Colwich near Stafford in 1836.

Read the rest here.

Several Benedictines suffered in the aftermath of the English Reformation: Downside Abbey honors several saints on their site. St. Benedict, Pray for Us!

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