URGENT! Petition to Protect Birgittine Manuscripts at Altomünster

The Birgittine library at Altomünster is at immanent risk. Only recently discovered by scholars, this women’s library contains an irreplaceable ensemble of books and other materials that can extend our knowledge of late-medieval women’s experiences.

To sign a petition go to the following site:


To read more about the situation:


[Notification sent in by Society members Corine Schleif, Michelle Urberg, and Volker Schier]

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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: grisec@mcmaster.ca.


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

Dr Barbara Zimbalist



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

Dr Stephanie Morley

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
Dr Laura Saetveit Miles


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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!

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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, grisec@mcmaster.ca, 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 grisec@mcmaster.ca.

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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 ashridge42@live.co.uk.

[sample photos from the book coming soon!]

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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.

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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: http://www.gracewing.co.uk/page483.html

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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 https://syonabbeysociety.wordpress.com/ and the University of Exeter website at http://syonat600.exeter.ac.uk). 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 www.amicd.co.uk). 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 (http://wwtn.history.qmul.ac.uk/index.html), 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)

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Syon at 600: New Website, Workshop Announcement

The AHRC-funded Syon at 600 project, run by Eddie Jones (principal investigator) and Vincent Gillespie (co-investigator), has an exciting new website: http://syonat600.exeter.ac.uk

The project’s second workshop, Syon in Lisbon, is appropriately based in Portugal and coming up soon: 20-22 April. If you are interested in participating please email Eddie Jones (e.jones@exeter.ac.uk). Don’t miss this opportunity to learn about Syon’s history, in the very convent buildings they inhabited in the beautiful medieval city of Lisbon, Portugal!

The project is also hosting a ‘Database of Researchers.’ Please enter your details in the online form in order to help develop a strong research network based on a wide range of scholars interested in Syon.

We are grateful to Eddie, and Vincent, for working on this important project for the sexcentenary year of Syon Abbey’s foundation!

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Symposium Announcement: Syon to Agincourt: 1415 and Beyond

Syon to Agincourt: 1415 and Beyond

Saturday, 25 April 2015, Graduate School, University of Hull, UK

This Marvell symposium is the third in an integrated series recently organized under the auspices of the Andrew Marvell Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies at the University of Hull. The aim of these specialist symposia, ‘Majesty: Constructing Royal Authority in Early Modern England’ (December, 2012); ‘New Directions in Medieval and Early Modern Studies’ (November, 2013); and ‘Syon to Agincourt: 1415 and Beyond’ (April, 2015) is to investigate particular topics from multi-disciplinary and different chronological perspectives that both reflect and complement the research interests of the members of the Centre.

The present symposium is focused on a seminal year in English history that saw — inter alia — the foundation of Syon Abbey in England, the condemnation of John Wyclif at the Council of Constance as a heretic, and the victory of Henry V at Agincourt. Such events had momentous consequences for the historic, religious, political, and literary development of the country — consequences that reverberated throughout English history. In intermingled ways these three events do much to reflect the feuding forces at work in England — and Europe — from the beginning of the fifteenth century onwards. In concentrating on the competing agendas of religious controversialists, the quest for military supremacy, and the development of royal reputation, this symposium aims to explore the different ways in which the country was shaped by such events.

Registration: £30 full fee; £20 for postgraduates

Booking: Please send the attached booking form, with a cheque for the relevant amount made payable to ‘The University of Hull’, to Dr Veronica O’Mara, Department of English, The University of Hull, Hull HU6 7 RX

Deadline: 9 March 2015 – please email  V.M.OMara@hull.ac.uk regarding late registration


Saturday, 25 April 2015, Graduate School, University of Hull


9.45am–10am             Registration


Chair: Veronica O’Mara, University of Hull

Bridget Morris, York, ‘The Foundation of Syon in a European Perspective’

Eyal Poleg, Queen Mary, University of London, ‘1415: Constance, Syon, and the Nadir of English Book Production’

Sue Powell, Salford/York/London, ‘“Beleve stedfastly as Holi Chirch techeth”:  John Mirk and the Festial’

11.30am–12pm            Coffee

12pm–1pm                WAR AND REPUTATION

Chair: Lesley Coote, University of Hull

Gwilym Dodd, University of Nottingham, ‘Agincourt: England’s Hollow Victory’

Karen Watts, Royal Armouries, Leeds, ‘Agincourt: France’s Failed Tournament’

1pm–1.45pm              Luncheon


Chair: Amanda Capern, University of Hull

Sarah Peverley, University of Liverpool, ‘This noble prynce, pierlesse of regyment: Henry V and Agincourt in Hardyng’s Chronicle’

David Bagchi, University of Hull, ‘ “O Constance, be strong upon my side!” Contesting the Council in the Reformation’

Veronica O’Mara, University of Hull, ‘Syon Returns to Europe’

Janet Clare, University of Hull, ‘ “Then call we this the field of Agincourt”: Elizabethan Memory and Commemoration’

3.45pm–4.15pm   Tea

4.15pm–4.45pm   GENERAL DISCUSSION

Chair: Elisabeth Salter, University of Hull

Syon to Agincourt: 1415 and Beyond

Saturday, 25 April 2015

 The Symposium takes place at the Graduate School, University of Hull, Hull HU6 7RX

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REGISTRATION FEE (this includes morning coffee, luncheon, and afternoon tea)

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Postgraduate    £20                     □ tick


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ACCOMMODATION (further information: www.visithullandeastyorkshire.com)

On campus University guest-houses (very limited availability so early booking is essential): 19–21 Salmon Grove, Hull, HU5 7RX (en-suite): single room: £39; double room (£61); twin room (£61); 3 Ferens Avenue, Hull HU6 7RX  (not en-suite): single room (£29); double room (£47; twin room (£47). Please book directly with the Accommodation Office on (01482) 466042 or visitorsaccom@hull.ac.uk

Mercure Royal Hotel Hull, 170 Ferensway, Hull, HU1 3UF (adjacent to the train and bus stations; nos 103, 105 come directly to the University; nos 15 and 115 stop at Cranbrook Avenue, a short walk from the main campus). Please book directly with the hotel on (01482) 325087 or via reservations@hotels-hull.co.uk; for the University rate (below) cite ‘Syon to Agincourt Symposium/O’Mara’: single room (£50); twin room (£82); double room, with single occupancy (£72); double room for two people (£82).

Please return your completed form, together with a cheque for the registration fee made payable to ‘The University of Hull’, by 9 March 2015, to Dr Veronica O’Mara, Department of English, University of Hull, Hull HU6 7RX.

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