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S. Powell
The Birgittines of Syon Abbey
Preaching and Print

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XXII+348 p., 5 b/w ill., 156 x 234 mm, 2017
ISBN: 978-2-503-53235-6
Languages: English, Latin
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This volume examines the Birgittine Order of nuns as producers and readers of texts in Britain from the fifteenth to the early sixteenth century, through an analysis of medieval manuscripts and early printed books. It highlights the community's response to teachings of St Birgitta, the dissemination of Birgittine texts, and Lady Margaret Beaufort's role as intermediary between Syon and the outside world.

The Birgittine Order of nuns, founded by St Birgitta herself, was first established at Vadstena in Sweden in 1384, six years after the order had received papal recognition and eleven years after the saint’s death. It only ever established one house in Britain, but that was a significant one. The house was founded by Henry V in 1415 and was peopled by daughters of the most influential English families, who formed the sisterhood, and some of the most learned and intellectual English priests, who formed the complementary brotherhood.
This book considers the role of the Birgittines of Syon as producers and readers of texts through an analysis of both late medieval manuscripts and early printed books. It focuses on the later fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, the most fruitful period of Birgittine outreach, when the printing press had opened up new opportunities of mission and transmission. It considers the community’s response to the teachings of St Birgitta herself in relation to the Birgittines’ preaching, for which Syon was nationally famous, as well as their authorship of works in both manuscript and printed format. It also examines the relationship between the Syon community and the nearby Carthusians of Sheen and London. In particular, it highlights the intermediary role of King Henry VII’s mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, who was an important link between the Birgittines, the Carthusians, and the printing houses of the late Middle Ages.

Table of Contents


A Note on the Bibliography of Syon Abbey and the Birgittine Order

Abbreviations and Short Titles

Chapter 1: The Birgittines of Syon Abbey

Chapter 2: Preaching at Syon Abbey

Chapter 3: A Rare Survival of Sermons Preached at Syon Abbey?

Chapter 4: Links to Syon Abbey in Caxton’s Editions of John Mirk’s Festial

Chapter 5: Manuscript and Print at Syon Abbey

Chapter 6: Lady Margaret Beaufort: Books, Printers, and Syon Abbey

Chapter 7: Syon Abbey in the Reign of Henry VIII and Beyond


A. A Bibliography of Syon texts before and after 1519

B. A List of Woodcuts In Syon Productions (In Chronological Order)


Index of Archives, Manuscripts, and Early Printed Books


“The volume is a goldmine of detail. Many pages are significantly devoted to footnotes and the bibliography covers an impressive 29 pages (…) Powell's collected essays make a convincing monograph (…) There is a great deal of literature on Syon and the persons associated with it. This volume fills a central niche in this rich area of historical study, one that fits the mission of Syon.” (Anne Thayer, in Sehepunkte, 18/2, 2018)

The Birgittines of Syon Abbey is a great resource for anyone doing research on the Birgittine Order or about monasticism in England during the Middle Ages. I can attest that if this volume had been available as I was writing my dissertation about the mother house at Vadstena, it would have been a well-thumbed resource on my shelf. The Birgittines of Syon Abbey is worth the time it takes to get through the details.” (Michelle Urberg, in The History of Women Religions in England and Ireland, 3.12.2018)

Interest Classification:
Religion (including History of Religion) & Theology
Christian Church : religious orders
Women's orders (nunneries, beguinages etc.)
Medieval & Renaissance History (c.400-1500)
Medieval European history (400-1500) : local & regional history
British Isles
Medieval History (400-1500) : subperiods
Late Middle Ages (c.1300-1500)

This publication is also distributed by: ISD, Marston
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