The English Congregation of the Order of St. bene dict (OSB) traces its origin back to the early Middle Ages. Monasticism was brought to England in 597 by the monk, (St.) augustine of canterbury, sent from Rome to convert the Anglo-Saxons. The first monastery was established at Canterbury in Kent. Monastic communities gradually took root in other parts of the Heptarchy, and a brilliant period of missionary and cultural activity followed. Outstanding figures of this period were the saints benedict biscop, wilfred of york, bede, and boniface, and the scholar alcuin. The Danish invasions arrested this initial development, and by the time of the reign of alfred the great (871–899), monasticism was practically extinct. In the 10th century (St.) dunstan, with royal assistance initiated a restoration that was so successful that Benedictine monasticism from that time until its extinction in the 16th century enjoyed uninterrupted development and expansion. The Norman Conquest brought only new vigor to this growth, drawing the greater houses into the feudal pattern. Abbots sat with the bishops, as barons, in the councils of the realm. As landlords the monks enjoyed a reputation for benevolence.
In 1215 a decree of the Fourth Lateran Council initiated the gradual association of the autonomous monastic communities into congregations by means of general chapters with defined rights of legislation and visitation. In 1218 the first Benedictine general chapter convened at Oxford, but not all the English monasteries were united to the congregation until the 4th century. Monasteries following the Benedictine Rule continued to spread throughout the kingdom. Central to the life and activities of the Benedictine monk was the Opus Dei, the daily and reverent performance of the sacred liturgy. Work in the beginning was largely manual, but in time intellectual activities came to predominate, and the monks provided a substantial cultural contribution through scholarship, instruction of the young, and the practice of the fine arts.
In the 16th century the monastic communities were dissolved by henry viii, and their property was confiscated. During the years of persecution that followed, English Catholics who wished to be monks had to make their profession in communities abroad. English monks had established themselves in Lorraine and the Netherlands. Later the French Revolution compelled these monks in exile to seek refuge in their native England, and from these returning communities has developed the present English Benedictine Congregation. In 1919 a property was acquired at Portsmouth, R.I., for the purpose of bringing English Benedictinism to America. The Abbey of St. Gregory the Great, Portsmouth, is now a flourishing community. Five years later St. Anselm's Abbey was established as a priory in Washington, D.C.; it became an abbey in 1961. A third American foundation, the Abbey of St. Mary and St. Louis, was made at Creve Coeur, Mo., in 1955; it became an abbey in 1989.
Bibliography: O.S.B., Official Catholic Directory #0200. d. knowles, The Monastic Order in England, 943–1216 (Cambridge, Eng. 1962). bede, A History of the English Church and People, tr. l. sherley-price (Baltimore 1955). b. weldon, Chronological Notes Containing the Rise, Growth and Present State of the English Congregation of the Order of St. Benedict (London 1881). j. mccann, "The English Benedictine Revival 1588–1619," American Benedictine Revue (1951) 261–286. w. w. bayne, "Thirty-Three Years of Portsmouth History," ibid. 3 (1952) 315–339.
[w. w. bayne/eds.]