This is not an April Fool's joke. A Norbertine Abbey that was suppressed in the reign of Henry VIII has a new Titular Abbot. Christopher Foyle, owner of Foyle's Bookstore and of the remains of Beeleigh Abbey, Maldon in Essex, named the current abbot of St. Philip's Chelmsford Priory, Abbot Hugh Allan o.praem to that honorary post last year. Foyle has also written a history of the Order and the Abbey, which is available at Foyle's Bookstore:
The first definitive and comprehensive guide to the house since Fowler and Clapham's work of 1922, and the slim guide published by W A Foyle in 1962. Christopher and Catherine Foyle are the current owners of Beeleigh Abbey which sits close by the banks of the upper tidal reaches of the River Chelmer near Maldon in Essex. The abbey is one of the most ancient continuously inhabited buildings in England.
In 'Beeleigh Abbey' Christopher Foyle has fulfilled a long term personal ambition. The book takes the reader from the founding of the Premonstratensian Order by St Norbert in 1119 and of the abbey in 1180, through medieval times.
It includes a local 'saint', a visit by King Edward I 'Long Shanks' and his Queen, Eleanor, the dissolution, intrigue at high levels of both medieval and Tudor politics, the murder by poisoning of an abbot, the beheading on Tower Hill of its first secular owner Sir Thomas Gates, buried treasure, tunnels, ghosts, archaeological digs, and the unfortunate neglect, and then the award winning restoration of the building, and the recent return of the Premonstratensian Order to the abbey in the person, no less, of its Abbot-General Thomas Handgraetinger from Rome, together with Father Hugh Allan the Prior of the new priory in Chelmsford, accompanied by some of his canons.
Of historical importance, Beeleigh Abbey is also a home with beautiful gardens, and in this book Christopher Foyle 'opens the doors' of his home through words and striking images and invites the reader to witness times past and times present.
You may see some photos and the table of contents on the Foyle's Bookstore website here. Prior/Abbot Allan and members of St. Philips visited their order's former abbey late last month and posted some pictures on Facebook.
British History Online provides these details about the suppression of Beeleigh Abbey, one of the smaller houses:
An inventory (fn. 38) of its goods was taken on 6 June by the king's commissioners. They consist of tapestry and other articles of furniture in the different chambers, viz., the great chamber, the children's chamber, the dining chamber, etc.; beds and bedding; malt and implements in the brewhouse; a table of alabaster at the high altar (valued at 13s. 4d.), with altar-cloths, mass-books, etc., in the choir; ornaments of the Lady chapel (including a pair of organs at 100s.), the Jesus chapel, the rood chapel, the chapel of St. Katharine and the vestry; articles in the kitchen, buttery and infirmary; and cattle, with some plate remaining in the hands of the commissioners. The goods were valued at £74 18s. 10d., besides cattle worth £31 15s. and corn worth £14 3s. 8d. The debts due to the house amounted to £32 11s. 2d., and those due by it to £121 18s. 4d., a strangely large amount in view of its prosperous condition a few years before. There were 129¾ ounces of plate, valued at £23 16s. 6d. An inventory was also taken of cattle left in the hands of Lancelot Madeson at the monastery on 24 July.
A complete rental of the possessions of the abbey, taken soon after the dissolution, is preserved. (fn. 39) The spiritualities amounted to £22 2s. yearly. The demesne lands of the abbey were valued at £30 0s. 4d., and the manor of Canons in Great Parndon at £16 2s. The net value of the whole of the temporalities was £145 15s. 2d. yearly, after deductions of £4 2s. 1½d. for rents, £2 13s. 4d. for the fee of the chief steward, £1 6s. 8d. for the fee of the understeward, and £3 6s. 8d. for the fee of the bailiff and collector; and exclusive of £22 2s. 8d. for the farm of lands called Jankenes Maldone in Hazeleigh, which had been granted to the queen by Act of Parliament. (fn. 40)This makes the net value of the abbey £189 19s. 10d., appreciably more than in the Valor.
Henry, earl of Essex, writing (fn. 41) to Cromwell on 13 January, before the dissolution, thanks him for his goodness to the abbot, though what is meant does not appear. On 23 March he writes (fn. 42) to ask Cromwell, inasmuch as the Act is passed that all places of religion being under 300 marks be wholly in his Grace's hands, to remind the king that the little house of Byleygh, of which he is founder, lies entirely within his own lands. He will give 1,000 marks, to be paid in three years, for its recovery, and promises that it shall never be used as a religious house again.
The earl did not get what he wanted. The possessions of the abbey were leased or granted away to various persons. The monastery itself with the mill there and the rectory of St. Peter, Maldon, were leased (fn. 43) on 8 January, 1537, to John Gate of Garnetts, High Easter; and on 15 July, 1540, the king, for £300, granted (fn. 44) to him in fee the monastery and various possessions in Beeleigh, Maldon, Woodham Walter, Langford, Ulting, Great Totham and Purleigh, and the rectories and advowsons of the vicarages of St. Peter and All Saints, Maldon, the whole being valued at £35 10s. 11½d. yearly, at a rent of 71s. 2d.
The Norbertines of St. Philip's Priory make this comment about their efforts: "to this day we strive to live according to the Rule of Our Holy Father Augustine and the inspiration of Our Holy Father Norbert, ready to be, as the motto of the Order states, 'ad omnes opus bonum parati', (prepared for every good work)."
St. Norbert, pray for us.
St. Augustine, pray for us.
Image credit: Norbert (on the right) receives the Augustinian Rule from Saint Augustine. From the "Vita Sancti Norberti," 12th-century manuscript. Public Domain.