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Syon, Abbey of


The only medieval house of the brigittine sisters in England, at Isleworth, Middlesex. Urged on by Baron FitzHugh, King Henry V issued the foundation charter for this double monastery in 1415 and in the following year provided a lavish endowment for it from the property of the Alien Priories. The community was enclosed in 1420 and throughout its existence enjoyed a reputation for enlightened and austere piety. Although strictly enclosed, the brethren, many of whom were university graduates, were influential as confessors, by their writings, and by preaching to pilgrims who came for the "Pardon of Syon" at Lammastide. The most prolific author was Richard whitford, the Wretch of Syon, who composed many spiritual treatises, including a version of the Jesus Psalter. An attraction for the poor was the annual distribution of all surplus revenue on All Souls Day. Syon was one of the main centers of resistance to henry viii's religious policy: St. Richard reynolds was executed, and Thomas Brownel, a lay brother, died in prison. Of all the English monasteries only Syon never surrendered; and when the house was suppressed under prae munire in November 1539, many of the community continued to live the religious life in smaller groups. The abbey was reestablished during Queen Mary's reign, but in the time of Queen Elizabeth most of the nuns went abroad, and there the monastery maintained its existence, despite great hardships, until they returned to England in 1861. They are now at Marley, Devon.

Bibliography: Catalogue of the Library of Syon Monastery, Isleworth, ed. m. bateson (Cambridge, England 1898). g. j. aun gier, comp., The History and Antiquities of Syon Monastery (London 1840). j. r. fletcher, The Story of the English Bridgettines of Syon Abbey (Syon Abbey, South Brent, England 1933). d. knowles, The Religious Orders in England, 3 v. (Cambridge, England 194860) v. 2, 3. d. knowles and r. n. hadcock, Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales (New York 1953).

[f. r. johnston]

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