Our History » The Bridgettine Abbey of Syon
The great Abbey at Syon was the only Bridgettine house in England. The foundation stone was laid by Henry V in 1415, and in little more than a century of existence it reached a position of unique influence and importance, with especially close links to the Tudor dynasty .
The Bridgettines were a reforming order who placed great value on austerity and scholarship and Syon Abbey became a great centre of scholarship, with a very fine library. It was a joint communities of nuns and priests and a major site of pilgrimage, where huge congregations would take mass and listen to sermons in English.
Recent archaeological exploration has identified the location of the huge Abbey church as under the meadows between Syon House and the Thames, surrounded by cloisters and outbuildings. A series of courtyards stood on the site of the front lawn of Syon House, large enough to accommodate the considerable numbers of pilgrims who gathered on feast days to take mass and listen to sermons of the priests of Syon.
The great palace of the Tudor dynasty was across the river at Richmond, and there were close links between the Abbey and Henry VIII, Catherine and Mary. However, as the break with Rome gathered momentum, the determined orthodoxy of the priests and nuns of Syon proved a significant obstacle to the king’s plans. One of the priests, Richard Reynolds, was executed for treason in 1535, and Syon was one of the last religious communities to be dissolved. The community left in 1539, but, unusually, many of them chose to go into exile together. Despite a brief return to Syon under Mary I, they maintained their identity and ritual as an English religious community in Holland and Portugal, before finally returning to England in the nineteenth century.
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