Continuity and Change in the Birgittine Order
(Syon Abbey 1415-2015)
Dartington Hall, Devon, 21-24 July 2015
The Birgittine order, over its more than six centuries of existence, has seen many changes: periods of growth and decline, expansion and retrenchment, patronage and persecution; individual houses have been suppressed and restored, declined, revived, relocated, and finally closed; the Birgittine vine has put out new branches, some of which have taken, and some not. And all this against a backdrop of religious, political, and social upheaval and change, that has not always remained safely in the background.
Are there any constants? The office, perhaps, or the habit, the rule (or rules?!), the spirit of the saint herself ... something intangibly, indefinably Birgittine? Is Birgittine identity about adherence to an essence or ideal, or something that is worked out in practice? Is the idea of charism useful, or an obstacle to historical analysis?
Such questions come into focus sharply this year, when England’s house of Birgittines, Syon Abbey, celebrates the six hundredth anniversary of its foundation by King Henry V in 1415. Those six centuries have seen dramatic fluctuations in fortune, and as many as twenty changes of abode, from the abbey’s medieval heyday by the Thames in Middlesex, through suppression under Henry VIII, restoration by Queen Mary, exile in the Low Countries and France, a two-hundred-year sojourn in Portugal, the return to south-west England, late twentieth-century downsizing, and closure of the convent in 2011. Rule and constitutions have been reinterpreted and rewritten; the office has been sung in Latin, abandoned for the Roman breviary, restored in Latin, and translated into English. The community has seen kingdoms rise and fall; lived through war, fire and earthquake, and responded to the councils of Konstanz, Trent and Vatican II.
Registration for the conference is available online here.
Sexcentenary event at Syon Park, 19 July 2015
We imagine that many delegates will also be interested in attending a commemoration of Syon’s foundation that is being held in the grounds of Syon Park, Isleworth, site of Syon Abbey from 1431 until the dissolution, on Sunday 19 July 2015. (For location, see http://www.syonpark.co.uk/.) Organisation of the event is being led by the church of St Bridget of Sweden and Our Lady of Sorrows, Isleworth. It will feature an ecumenical service led by the archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols. We are involved in preparations for the event, and will provide further details as they become available.