Call for Papers, Kalamazoo 2017

The Syon Abbey Society is delighted to be co-sponsoring with the Vernacular Devotional Cultures Group a paper session on “Syon Abbey and Its Associates” at the next Kalamazoo Medieval Congress in May 2017. Please see below for full call details, as well as the other 2 sessions organized by the Vernacular Devotional Cultures Group.


The Vernacular Devotional Cultures Group is sponsoring three sessions at the 52nd International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo for 2017:

1)   New Approaches to the Helfta Nuns and Their Contemporaries (contacts: C. Annette Grisé, Barbara Zimbalist)

2)   Syon Abbey and Its Associates [co-sponsored with the Syon Abbey Society] (contacts: Brandon Alakas, Stephanie Morley)

3)  Imitatio Mariae in the Meditationes vitae Christi Traditions across Europe (contacts: Leah Buturain, Laura Saetvit Miles)

Please send abstracts of no more than 300 words and a completed Participant Information Form to the co-organizers of your selected session by 15 September 2016. Electronic submissions are preferred.

Details of the session topics and co-organizer contact information are found below. Please send general inquiries and requests to join the listserv to Cathy Grisé:


1)        New Approaches to the Helfta Nuns and Their Contemporaries (Organizers: Members of VDCG Committee)

In the second half of the thirteenth century, the female monastery of Helfta played a significant role in the cultivation of Western European mysticism. The circle of nuns comprising three visionaries and their abbess—Mechtild of Hackeborn (1240-1298), Gertrud the Great of Helfta (1256-1302), Mechtild of Magdeburg (1207-1282/94, a beguine who joined Helfta later in life), and Gertrud of Hackeborn (1232-1292, Abbess of Helfta and sister of Mechtild), respectively—were responsible for several important visionary treatises (including Liber Specialis Gratiae, The Book of Special Grace, and Das fließende Licht der Gottheit, The Flowing Light of Divinity) that defined German mysticism for their time: for example, they developed nuptial mysticism using imagery of holy women as Brides of Christ, and dedicated themselves to the Devotion of the Sacred Heart as part of their active program of female education, piety, and community. This interdisciplinary session will allow scholars and students to showcase recent research on the Helfta nuns and explore how these holy women expanded and changed traditional paradigms, as well as to compare this material with that of other late-medieval mystics.

Please send abstracts of no more than 300 words and a completed Participant Information Form to the co-organizers of this session by 15 September 2016. Electronic submissions are preferred.

Session Organizers:

Dr C. Annette Grisé

Dept. of English and Cultural Studies

McMaster University

1280 Main St. W.

Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

L8S 4L9


Dr Barbara Zimbalist

Department of English
Hudspeth Hall, Room 113
500 W. University Ave.
El Paso, Texas 79968-0526


2)       Co-sponsored with Syon Abbey Society: Syon Abbey and its Associates (Organizers: Brandon Alakas and Stephanie Morley)

The Syon Abbey Society and the Vernacular Devotional Cultures Group invite paper abstracts for its joint session “Syon Abbey and its Associates” which treat any aspect of writing associated with the intellectual and spiritual culture that flourished at the abbey. Syon’s reputation as a stalwart centre for orthodox reform and prolific source of vernacular devotional writing since its foundation in 1415 has been well-documented and long-recognised. This session seeks to examine the channels of connection beyond the convent walls, both in terms of the abbey’s impact on contemporary thinkers, patrons, printers, and lay readers, as well as the influence—material and spiritual—the world beyond its walls may have exerted on the abbey.


A nodal point for high-ranking aristocrats and intellectuals in late medieval and Tudor England, Syon attracted a diverse body of individuals ranging from Margaret Beaufort and Katherine of Aragon to Richard Pace, Thomas More, and John Fisher. These connections are often noted but seldom explored. How, for example, were ties forged and maintained between the Birgittine community, secular elites, printers, and the reading public? For over a century, Syon both ministered to and depended upon a vast network of lay support for its pastoral initiatives and its commitment to reinvigorating—and, finally, preserving—monastic life. This session aims to probe the nature of this long-nurtured relationship between the spiritual and the secular which accounts for the formidable authority and longevity of Syon Abbey.


Papers may address the movement and circulation of books to or from the Abbey; consider particular relationships between authors or patrons on either side of the convent walls; or examine specific texts or translations associated with the abbey for traces of broader associations. Any and all disciplinary and methodological approaches are welcome.


Please send abstracts of no more than 300 words and a completed Participant Information Form to either co-organizer of this session by 15 September 2016. Electronic submissions are preferred.


Dr Brandon Alakas
Department of Fine Arts and Humanities
University of Alberta, Augustana
4901 – 46 Avenue
Camrose, AB T4V 2R3


Dr Stephanie Morley
Department of English
Saint Mary’s University
923 Robie Street
Halifax, NS B3H 3C3


3)       Paper Panel: “Imitatio Mariae in the Meditations vitae Christi traditions across Europe” (Organizers: Leah Buturain and Laura Saetvit Miles)

The pseudo-Bonaventuran Meditationes vitae Christi (MVC) is considered the single most influential devotional text written in the later Middle Ages. This paper panel will explore how the textual tradition of the MVC and related gospel meditations fostered creative forms of imitating Mary, or imitatio Mariae. While imitatio Christi has received scholarly attention, imitatio Mariae merits more fruitful consideration – especially as it compasses texts and images that engage both laity and religious in imitating the Virgin’s virtues. This panel will focus on performative rituals and texts used to recapitulate her life events, such as the Annunciation.  How did imitatio mariae enrich the “devout imagination” of the faithful? How did readers perform Mary’s own performance of speech, silence, and prayer? We hope to solicit abstracts that tap into the variegated traditions of the MVC from across Europe, in Latin and multiple vernaculars.

Please send abstracts of no more than 300 words and a completed Participant Information Form to the co-organizers of this session by 15 September 2016. Electronic submissions are preferred.


Session Contacts:

Dr Leah Buturain]USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology

1946 N. Serrano Ave.

LA, CA 90027
Dr Laura Saetveit Miles

Department of Foreign Languages,

University of Bergen

Postbox 7805, N-5020 Bergen, Norway




Notice of new Society at the International Medieval Congress at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI

The Vernacular Devotional Cultures Group seeks to fill the gap left by the departure of the Mystics Quarterly sessions at Kalamazoo, with a broadened focus to include vernacular spiritual writings of the late Middle Ages–championed by female visionaries, but also written and disseminated by clerics and monks, and read by women religious as well as by the laity. We sponsored our first session in Kalamazoo 2016 for scholars and students of late-medieval, vernacular devotional culture. We wish to complement the work being done by such groups as the Syon Abbey Society, the Lollard Society, and the Anchoritic Society.

Our mandate for the Vernacular Devotional Culture includes making up for the loss of the Mystics Quarterly sessions (no longer taking place at Congress) by sponsoring sessions on medieval mystics and mysticism, fostering collaboration among societies devoted to religious cultures, and showcasing recent scholarship on vernacular spiritual traditions in medieval Western Europe.

For further information please contact:

Cathy Grisé, McMaster University (

Barbara Zimbalist, University of Texas at El Paso (

Jennifer Brown, Marymount Manhattan College (

Stephanie Amsel, Southern Methodist University (


Listserv: is just being established. Please email Cathy Grisé at for details, or look for upcoming information on the website.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

New Resources from the Syon Abbey Associates

Under the ‘Resources’ menu above, please find several new and very valuable resources generously offered by John Adams of the Syon Abbey Associates (London). They include:

  • An updated “List of Extant MSS and Books.” This is the most comprehensive list of surviving books from Syon yet.
  • A detailed study titled “Syon Abbey: Its Herbal, Medical Books and Care of the Sick: Healthcare in a Mixed Mediaeval Monastery,” by John Adams (2015)
  • A short illustrated guide to the stay of Dame Agnes Jordan and the Bridgettine Nuns of Syon Abbey at Southlands in the post-Dissolution period, 1539-1546, by John Adams
  • A transcription of several folios from Thomas Betson’s notebook, of parts of his work A Ryght Profitable Treatyse, transcribed by Stuart Forbes and John Adams

Thanks to John Adams for making these publicly available!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Call for Papers: New Perspectives on Catherine of Siena and her Contemporaries

Call for Papers, Kalamazoo International Medieval Congress 2016, 12-15 May

Session: “New Perspectives on Catherine of Siena and her Contemporaries”

Sponsoring Group: Vernacular Devotional Cultures Group

There has been a surge in interest in Catherine of Siena as a result of Heather McWebb’s Speculum article and recent books and articles on Catherine’s life and revelations. This topic provides a useful intersection for many current scholarly concerns, including female-male collaboration, vernacular readers and textual production, prophecy and politics, self-studies, and semi-religious orders and religious vocations, for example. This interdisciplinary session will allow scholars and students to showcase recent ideas about Catherine of Siena and explore how her work expanded traditional patriarchal boundaries, as well as to compare this material with that of other late-medieval female mystics working in the vernacular.

Please submit abstracts for this session to Catherine Annette Grisé, McMaster University,, by September 15, 2015.

Notice of New Society: Vernacular Devotional Cultures Group

Valerie Lagorio’s retirement as editor of Mystics Quarterly has left a gap in the offerings of Kalamazoo sessions for recent work on late-medieval vernacular devotional literature and culture. The sessions presented at Kalamazoo 2015 by Daniel Armenti and Nahir Otano Gracia to celebrate the retirement of Elizabeth Avilda Petroff, a major scholar of European female mystics working in the vernacular, brought together scholars and students who were influenced by her work. These sessions reminded participants of the importance of continuing to highlight the role of vernacular devotional culture–championed by female visionaries, but also written and disseminated by clerics and monks, and read by women religious  as well as by the laity.

We are sponsoring one session in Kalamazoo 2016 for scholars and students of late-medieval, vernacular devotional culture. We wish to complement the work being done by such groups as the Syon Abbey Society, the Lollard Society, and the Anchoritic Society. It is our hope that at the 2016 Congress we will generate enough interest to launch officially a Vernacular Devotional Cultures Group that will have a continued presence at Kalamazoo.

If you are interested in being put on the mailing list for the new Vernacular Devotional Cultures Group please send your contact information, affiliation, and research interests to

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

New Book: “A Pictorial History of Marley House, Devon through the centuries”

Jonathan Nicholson, resident of one of the new houses on the Marley estate — formerly the site of the modern Syon Abbey — has self-published a wonderful collection of photographs, maps, and historical descriptions pertaining to the Marley Estate. It begins with the earliest history and contains many details about the Bridgettine sisters’ time there, beginning in 1925, as well as more modern development starting in the ’90s.

Available for purchase here on Lulu (sold at cost).

Jonathan Nicholson can be reached at

[sample photos from the book coming soon!]

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Reminder to register for the final Syon at 600 Workshop: Dartington Conference

“Continuity and Chance in the Birgittine Order,” the third and final workshop for the “Syon at 600” project, will be held at Dartington Hall, Devon, UK, 21-24 July 2015. If you plan to go to this exciting event, please register as soon as possible!

Check out the program of speakers here.

Register for the third workshop here.

A brief account of the Lisbon workshop held in April can be found here. Remember to consult and/or add yourself to the very helpful Researcher Database.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

New book out on the history of Syon Abbey!

England’s Last Medieval Monastery: Syon Abbey 1415-2015, by E. A. Jones (Gracewing, 2015)

E.A. Jones, associate professor at the University of Exeter and principal investigator of the Syon at 600 project, has just published a new book that is a “short account of Syon’s long history, for general readers.” This is an excellent, much-needed overview of the institution available at a very reasonable price.


Link to the publisher’s listing is here:

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Special Report: Syon Abbey Workshop, November 2014

SPECIAL REPORT: “Syon at 600” Project – Syon Abbey Workshop @ Syon House, 7-9 November, 2014

by Sue Powell

Dr Eddie Jones of the University of Exeter was the organiser of this Syon workshop, which took place in the impressive, and even numinous (to us, at least) surroundings of Syon House, the seat of the Dukes of Northumberland since the late sixteenth century and in its present state since the mid-eighteenth century.

The workshop was the first in a series of three events, partly funded by an AHRC international network grant. 2015 events will be in April at Lisbon, and in July at Dartington Hall, Devon (see the Syon Abbey Society website at and the University of Exeter website at This first meeting (unlike many so-dubbed events) was a genuine workshop – twenty-five participants around one large table in a very pleasant Syon drawing room (the Northumberland Room). The twenty-five were privileged to attend such a meeting of minds, with plentiful discussion, opinions, questions, and valuable information and shared knowledge. Especially good was the mix of professional Syonistas (as one delegate called us), knowledgeable amateur enthusiasts, and postgraduate or recent postgraduate students at perhaps their first Syon conference, not to mention the blend of critics (the academics) and practitioners (the archaeologists).

After a welcome by Eddie Jones and Topher Martyn, head gardener (but clearly much more) at Syon Park, the first session of the afternoon was ‘Medieval Syon: Liturgy’, with talks by Ann Hutchison, Tekla Bude, and Delia Sarson (on the Myroure of oure Lady, extant Syon processionals, and the Office of the Guardian Angel, respectively). John Adams gave a spirited account of Thomas Betson’s herbal, which he and Stuart Forbes have transcribed from Betson’s notebook in Cambridge, St John’s College, MS 109 (E6) and which was published 19 November (see A wine reception followed, at which we were lucky enough to drink John’s ‘vintage’ (i.e. old) champagne, as well as enjoy wine, canapés, and informed tours of the main Robert Adams rooms led by Topher and his colleague Simon Hadleigh-Sparks. The whole group then adjourned to the Atash Persian restaurant for a very jolly meal, led by Topher through the moonlit conservatory of Syon Park to the dark streets of much more prosaic Brentford.

The Saturday morning sessions consisted of ‘Reading and Writing at Syon’ (Veronica O’Mara on the scribal evidence for nuns, and for Syon in particular, and David Harrap on the Musica Ecclesiastica, the Middle English versions of the Imitatio Christi), and ‘Syon People’ (Vincent Gillespie on Thomas Fishbourne and St Alban’s, vigorously responded to by James Clark, and Virginia Bainbridge on what she self-depracatingly called ‘Virginia’s holiday’, a very interesting uncovering of Syon-associated families in the Stanley territories of Cheshire and north Wales. The afternoon started with an introduction by Harvey Sheldon, recently retired from the Museum of London, on ‘Syon and Archaeology’, followed (just as the rain started) by a visit to the small museum below the first floor of the house and the gardens where the Time Team dig and then the more extensive Birkbeck College excavations have taken place since 2003. The afternoon ended with ‘Syon, Print and Protestantism’, when Brandon Alakas spoke on Richard Whitford and the scrupulous conscience and Philippa Earle on echoes of Walter Hilton in Whitford’s Book of Patience.

Early on Sunday Topher Martyn traced the development (or destruction) ‘From Syon Abbey to Syon House’, a very lively and informative talk, particularly interesting to me on the evidence for the demolition of the church (certainly by 1557, but, argued Topher, probably by 1549 since it would have spoiled the duke of Somerset’s view of his new triangular garden). Elizabeth Goodman and Victoria van Hyning talked on ‘The wandering years’, when the Syon sisters and priests were shuttled around the Low Countries. Elizabeth spoke on the parallel (and at times convergent) experiences of the Dominican nuns of Dartford, and Victoria on the pro-active role beyond England of Margaret Griggs Clement, the adopted daughter of Thomas More, and her family, particularly her daughter Margaret, first English prioress of the Flemish Augustinian convent of St Ursula. Finally, the conference ended with the period ‘Beyond 1594’, with an overview by Eddie Jones, an introduction by Caroline Bowden to the database of her fascinating project ‘Who were the Nuns?’, a prosopographical study of the English convents in exile 1600-1800 (, and an insight by Carmen Mangion into her study of nuns, including Birgittines, in the post-1940 period, particularly interesting for its extensive use of oral history.

Congratulations must go to Eddie, Topher and the archaeologists, in particular, although every single delegate at this conference deserves congratulations for their enthusiastic and learned participation. However, perhaps the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland and the staff of Syon House deserve most thanks, the former for their most generous hospitality in offering free of charge their splendid conference facilities, and the latter for their friendly and helpful assistance in ushering us in and out and round about throughout the conference.


Sue Powell

Emeritus Professor Medieval Texts and Culture (University of Salford)

Research Associate (Centre for Medieval Studies, University of York)

Visiting Research Fellow (Institute of English Studies, University of London)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment