Book Series Texts and Transitions, vol. 11

The Birgittines of Syon Abbey

Preaching and Print

Susan Powell

  • Pages: 348 p.
  • Size:156 x 234 mm
  • Illustrations:5 b/w
  • Language(s):English, Latin
  • Publication Year:2017

  • ISBN: 978-2-503-53235-6
  • Hardback
  • Available

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 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)

“Genom sin metodologiska noggrannhet lyckas Powell kasta nytt ljus över Syon med dess predi­ kouppdrag och bokproduktion. Eftersom vi sedan tidigare vet ytterst litet om predikan i klostret, är detta en värdefull bok, inte hara därför att den belyser nytt material utan även för att Powell drar slutsatser baserade på noggranna avvägningar. Men inte endast lyckas Powell belysa Syons predikoverksamhet och skriftproduktion, utan även engelskt 400-tal med dess skriftkultur, religiositet och kultur. Jag vill därför varmt rekommendera denna bok för både forskare och studenter som önskar en fördjupad förståelse av dessa omraden.” (Erik Claeson, in Kyrkohistorik arsskrift, 2018, p. 108)

“Susan Powell’s collection of essays offers a compelling vantage point from which to enter Syon Abbey studies.(…) My description of The Birgittines of Syon Abbey hardly does justice to this excellent volume, and I have only hinted at the multiple scholarly audiences who might find the essays useful.” (Virginia Blanton, in Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 70, 2019, p. 169-170)

“Susan Powell is an influential scholar on Syon Abbey and the volume under consideration offers those new to Syon studies an excellent orientation (…) The Birgittines of Syon Abbey is a valuable book, conveniently bringing together important and insightful scholarship and offering rich suggestions for further research.” (Alex da Costa, in Renaissance Quarterly, LXXI/4, 2019, p. 1524-1525)

“(…) The Birgittines of Syon Abbey is valuable for a circle of specialists who, likely to be familiar with Powell’s articles in their first printing, will nevertheless be interested in the extensive bibliography and appendices providing the index of Cox MS 39, a Syon manuscript of sermons, a bibliography of Syon texts before and after 1519, along with a list of woodcuts of Saint Birgitta in printed editions associated with Syon Abbey.” (Annalena Müller, in Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies, 94/3, 2019, p. 883)

The Birgittines of Syon Abbey: Preaching and Print is the next best thing.” (E. A. Jones, in British Catholic History, 34/4, 2019, p. 656)

“This volume is definitely worth purchasing or recommending to libraries for the new material and the convenience of the previously published works compiled together (…) The Birgittines of Syon Abbey presents the most comprehensive appraisal of the literary culture of Syon Abbey yet, and lays the groundwork for new research moving forward.” (Laura Saetveit Miles, in The Medieval Review, 04/08/2020)

“This collection is a valuable resource for everyone who researches the Birgittine community at Syon Abbey (…)The Birgittines of Syon Abbey is not only important for specialists but will also become a vademecum for those newly undertaking research on the English Birgittines.” (Brandon Alakas, in Journal of Medieval Religious Cultures, 47/1, 2020, p. 111)

“(…) an immensely valuable introduction to Susan Powell’s influential work, and to the study of Syon Abbey more broadly. It should prove an essential starting point for those new to the field.” (Stephanie Thomson, in Parergon, 36/2, 2019, p. 237)




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.



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