RepositorySpecial Collections Archives (GB 0029)
Ref NoEUL MS 262/add1
Datec 15th-20th century
Extent148 volumes, 7 folders (12 boxes, 13 outsize items on shelves)
TitleSyon Abbey modern manuscripts, Addition 1
DescriptionThis section comprises the contents of a bookshelf at Syon Abbey's last residence in South Brent, Devon, and consists mainly of religious manuscripts, including liturgical, devotional and theological texts. It also includes histories of Syon Abbey, personal accounts of the lives of sisters, and catalogues and notes on the contents of the Syon Abbey library. The manuscripts date to the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, with one possibly dating to the 16th century. Manuscripts in this section dating to before 1861 were presumably created or collected during the period when the community was living in exile in Lisbon, Portugal. Later manuscripts were created or collected after the community's return to England at three different locations: in Spetisbury, Dorset (1861-1887); Chudleigh, Devon (1887-1925); and South Brent, Devon (1925-2011). This section includes handwritten and typewritten material, as well as a small number of printed pamphlets relating to Syon Abbey and its history. Many of the manuscripts are inscribed with the names of the nuns or monks who transcribed or read them, providing insight into scribing and readership at Syon Abbey.
Admin HistorySyon Abbey was a monastic house of the Order of the Most Holy Saviour, also known as the Bridgettine Order. The house was founded directly from the Mother House in Vadstena in Sweden in 1415, and the community followed the Rule of St Bridget of Sweden. This enclosed Bridgettine community - comprising both monks and nuns and governed by an abbess - was known for its dedication to reading, meditation and contemplation. In addition, it was unusual in being the only English Catholic community of religious to have continued existing without interruption through the Reformation period. In the wake of Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries, the community dispersed into smaller groups in which they continued their religious practice, with some remaining in England whilst others sought refuge abroad. Syon Abbey was restored for a short period in England under the Catholic rule of Mary I; however, following the accession of Elizabeth I and the return to Protestantism, the community went into exile. The community spent over half a century migrating through the Low Countries (Antwerp, Dendermonde, Haamstede, Mishagen, Mechelen) and France (Rouen), before eventually finding a new home in Lisbon, Portugal in 1594. In Lisbon, the community survived a convent fire in 1651 and the Lisbon Earthquake in 1755, but both events presumably resulted in the loss of many of Syon's early records. The last brother of Syon Abbey died in 1695. In 1809, at the height of the Napoleonic Wars, the community - with the exception of three sisters, who remained in Lisbon - attempted a return to England; however, by 1815, they were struggling financially, and eventually they relinquished many of their ancient treasures to the Earl of Shrewsbury in exchange for financial support (many of these treasures were auctioned at the The Great Sale of 1857 at Alton Towers). One sister returned to the community in Lisbon, whilst the last of the nuns in England died in 1837. Following the arrival of new postulants in the early nineteenth century, the community in Lisbon recovered and regained its strength. In 1861, amid rising religious tensions in Portugal, the community successfully returned to England, where they initially resided in Spetisbury, Dorset. Following a further relocation to Chudleigh, Devon, in 1887, the community finally settled in South Brent, Devon, in 1925. On account of dwindling numbers and the age of the remaining nuns, the decision was made to close Syon Abbey in 2011. In the same year, the archive was transferred to the University of Exeter, where it joined other previously deposited collections relating to Syon Abbey, including printed books and manuscripts from the Syon Abbey library. The community attracts considerable research interests throughout the world.
Access StatusOpen
ArrangementTo improve discoverabliity and accessibility, the manuscripts have been rearranged into an approximate chronological order. A PDF list of the manuscripts in their original order exists at Special Collections; please contact for more information. The previous reference numbers have been included in the 'alternative reference number' field of the catalogue.
Creator_NameSyon Abbey; 1415-2011; Bridgettine
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