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Ref No EUL MS 389
Repository Special Collections Archives (GB 0029)
Date 16th century-20th century
Title Syon Abbey archive
Extent 113 boxes, 3 plan chest drawers, 2 loose vols, 3 bundles plans, 1 bundle records.
Creator Name Syon Abbey (1415- )
Admin History The community of Bridgettine nuns were based at Syon Abbey South Brent, Devon until 2012. The community was unusual in being able to trace an unbroken tradition reaching back to their Abbey's foundation in 1415. The Bridgettine Order was founded in the second half of the fourteenth-century by a Swedish noblewoman who was canonised in 1391 and known as St Bridget of Sweden. This contemplative order was to accommodate both men and women. The order founded at Syon Abbey in 1415 became a major focal point of religious activity in the sixteenth-century and was well-known for its publication of religious literature. A surviving set of rules for Syon Abbey explicitly emphasises the importance of books and instructs the sisters in their proper care. Both the nuns and the monks had their own libraries but, whilst there is an extant catalogue of the brothers' medieval library, no catalogue of the nuns' medieval library has survived and little is known about what physically happened to either of the libraries following the Abbey's suppression in 1539.

The nuns did not disperse immediately and the re-establishment of Syon by Cardinal Pole was confirmed in 1557 during the reign of Mary. However, in May 1559 Parliament decreed the dissolution of the re-established monasteries and the nuns went into exile. The community then continued to exist in Flanders, France, and Portugal until its return to England in two groups, one in 1809 and the other in 1861, and settled in 1925 at Marley, South Brent, Devon until 2012 when the nuns left, effectively ending the community. Marion Glasscoe, who co-ordinated the transfer of the Syon book collections to Exeter University Library, has recorded that the sisters took a small core of surviving books with them when they first went into exile and she argues that the nuns continued to build up their library while abroad and that they brought all those volumes which survived a convent fire (Lisbon 1651) back to England on their return in the nineteenth-century. The community attracts considerable research interests from throughout the world.
Description Records concerning the workings and business of Syon Abbey, mostly dating to the 19th Century. These include:
Building and estate records, including leases, rentals, building works
Copy statutes and deeds
Financial and administrative papers
Profession records, vows, pensions
Material relating to the Diocese and the See of Rome including papal bulls, licences and decrees
Material relating to Divine Office and worship
Charities
Personal Correspondence including letters to the Abbesses (material later than 1975 is closed).
Chapter Acts (1 book of closed access material)
A small assortment of manuscript books
Baptismal material and wills
Personalia including address books and diaries
Paintings and flatwork including paintings by Sister Mary Stanislaus
Historical materials and memorabilia including news cuttings and articles.
Books include the following three titles:
'The Life of St. Bridget and St. Catherine' – manuscript, ms c.17th century unknown but probably same hand as Syon MS18.
'The Rosary of our Saviour', William Bonde, (1526) morocco bound, English Short Title Catalogue no. 14571
'The Pipe of Perfection'(The pype or tonne of the lyfe of perfection), Richard Whitforde, (1532).

Other items of significance include:
Deed of Restoration, Cardinal Pole (note:translation of document held on file)
Isleworth Deeds nos. 1-3 (3 items)
Cartulary, Edward IV
Papal Briefs 1515-1750 – 1 folder
Lisbon material (17th century onwards – 1 folder)
Lisbon vows (1 folder)
Lisbon Profession papers (1 folder)
Lisbon 1768 (1 folder)
Profession papers 1607-1628 – 3 folders
1 folder of 17th century papers
Vows of Sisters Professed at Spettesbury, Dorset 1861-1886
Vows of Sisters Professed at Chudleigh (4 folders)
Vows of Sisters Professed at South Brent (3 folders)
Rite of Abbatial Election (1 folder)
Bishop Graham’s permission (1 folder)
19th century accounts, papers concerning Peter Baines, postulants (1 folder)
Fr P Baines letter books (c19) (1 folder)
List of papal briefs, Kitty Witham’s letter, Sister Vaux’s pedigree
Vows of Sisters not accepted for solemn profession
Rental for Sion House, properties in Lisbon (1 folder)
17th and 18th century documents relating to Divine Office
18th century papers – papal briefs, pensions and postulants
Arrangement Currently arranged in the sequence it was held at the abbey, with no specified systematic arrangement into management groups, although a partial list is available at Special Collections, which provides some categorisation of items.
Access Conditions Usual EUL arrangements apply, but Chapter Minutes, personal correspondence post 1975 and a few other specific items are closed. Refer to senior staff.
Copyright
Language English
Language Latin
Language Portuguese
Language German
Language Swedish
Language French
Language Spanish
Finding Aids Part boxlist available at Special Collections.

 

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