RepositorySpecial Collections Archives (GB 0029)
Ref NoEUL MS 389
Date1467-2011
LevelCollection
Extent113 boxes, 3 plan chest drawers, 2 loose vols, 3 bundles plans, 1 bundle records.
TitleSyon Abbey archive
DescriptionThis archive consists of records concerning the management, business and activities of Syon Abbey, including material relating to daily life, administration, community, worship and history. It comprises a range of materials, including correspondence, documents, diaries, property deeds with seals, rolled plans, photographs and artwork. Records in the archive predominantly date from the 19th and 20th century, and represent a very full reflection of the workings of Syon Abbey from the community's return to England in 1861 to the closure of Syon Abbey in 2011. The archive also includes a few 15th century items, as well as a considerable number of records from the community's years in exile in the Low Countries, France and Lisbon, which date from the 16th to the mid-19th century.
Admin HistorySyon Abbey was a monastic house of the Order of our Most Holy Saviour (also known as the Bridgettines). 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 renowned 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 began their 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. 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.
LanguagePrimarily English, Latin and Portuguese, but also including items in Dutch, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish.
Access StatusOpen
Related MaterialEUL MS 95, EUL MS 262, EUL MS 265
Further Syon Abbey materials are available at Ushaw College in Durham (relating to Syon Abbey's relations with the English College in Lisbon) and the Plymouth Diocesan Archives in Exeter (relating to Syon Abbey's relations with the Bishop of Plymouth and the Plymouth Diocese).
Access ConditionsUsual EUL arrangements apply, but Chapter Minutes, and a few other specific items are closed. Refer to senior staff. Post-1975 correspondence is closed to public inspection on a 50-year rolling basis.
ArrangementPreviously kept in the sequence it was held in at the abbey, with no specified systematic arrangement into management groups, a partial box list of the original arrangement is still available at Special Collections. New arrangement and cataloguing currently in progress.
Finding_AidsExcel spreadsheet with the original part boxlist available at Special Collections.
Creator_NameSyon Abbey (1415-)
Mgt_GroupHistorical papers
Theological papers
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