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Eckenstein, Lina, d. 1931 / Woman under monasticism: chapters on saint-lore and convent life between A.D. 500 and A.D. 1500 (1896)


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The Foundation and Internal Arrangements of Sion.[1*]

Before leaving the subject of women's convent life in England in the later Middle Ages, it will be interesting to devote some attention to the foundation and interior arrangements of Sion, a convent founded under peculiar circumstances at a time when it was no longer usual to found or endow religious settlements. The information relating to Sion has been characterised as the most valuable record we possess of monastic life in the 15th century. It refers to one short period only and bears out what has already been put forward with regard to other nunneries. The interests of the women who joined this convent centred round devotional practices and a highly elaborated convent routine.

The settlement of Sion belonged to the order of St Bridget of Sweden, and was the only house of its kind in England. It was situated in beautiful surroundings near Isleworth on the Thames, and was so richly endowed that at the time of the dissolution its income far exceeded that of any other nunnery, not excepting the time-honoured settlements of Shaftesbury and Barking. It was the only English community of women which escaped being scattered at the time of the Reformation. Its convent of nuns removed to Holland, but returned to the old house for a time after the accession of Queen Mary. At the close of her reign the nuns again went abroad and after various vicissitudes settled at Lisbon, where the convent continued to be recruited from English homes   [p. 384]   till the beginning of this century. Then the nine sisters of which the convent consisted came to England, and settled at Chudleigh, near Newton-Abbot, in Devonshire.

A few words in passing must be devoted to the nun and saint Bridget[2*] of Sweden, founder of the order which took her name-- a woman of acquirements and influence. She was born of a kingly race in 1304, and from the house of a powerful father passed to that of a powerful husband; but the responsibilities of a large household and the care of a family of seven children did not draw her attention from social and political affairs. She was strongly imbued with the need of reform in religion, and believed in the possibility of effecting a change by encouraging monasticism. A large part of her property and much of her time were devoted to enlarging the religious settlement of Wadstena. She then went on a pilgrimage to Santiago in Spain, after which husband and wife separated, each to embrace convent life. Bridget, or Birgitta as her people called her, dwelt at Wadstena, which she reformed according to rules which she believed she had received direct from heaven. She also wrote some 'Revelations,' which in their strong invective recall the Revelations of St Hildegard of Bingen with this difference, that St Bridget with open directness spoke of the dangers which she thought were gathering around Sweden. The tone of these writings brought her into difficulties. She escaped from them by removing to Rome in 1350, where she lived for over twenty years. Here she was looked upon as the representative of the Church party which strongly censured the Pope for continuing to dwell at Avignon. This party looked upon Bridget as the chosen mouthpiece of God. Her power of prophecy was generally recognised after her threatening visions about the state of things in Sweden had proved true. Settlements on the plan of that of Wadstena rapidly multiplied during her lifetime in Sweden and in North Germany. It was partly owing to her influence that the first attempt was made to translate the Bible into Swedish, and she is looked upon by the Swedes as one of that faithful band who worked for their national regeneration. She died in 1372 and was officially canonised a saint in 1391.[3*]

A great feature of the order of St Bridget was that its settlements consisted of a double community of men and women who combined for purposes of divine service, but were otherwise separate,   [p. 385]   each community having its own conventual buildings separately enclosed. The convent of nuns, according to Bridget's stipulation, numbered sixty women including the abbess, and in accordance with a fanciful notion, such as one comes across in the Middle Ages, these women had associated with them thirteen priests, who represented the apostles, four deacons who represented the great doctors of the Church, and eight lay brothers; the lady abbess was at the head of this double community. The order in its development abroad endeavoured to influence all classes. It encouraged charity, promoted education and collected books. But in England its tone fell in with that of other nunneries in the 15th century; the interests of Sion were entirely devotional and its large library seems to have contained religious works only.

I am not aware of any mention of Bridget in contemporary English literature previous to the introduction of her order into this country, which took place at the beginning of the 15th century. In the year 1406 Philippa, daughter of Henry IV, was sent to Lund in Sweden to be married to King Eric XIII (1382--1445), under whose rule the crowns of Sweden, Denmark and Norway were united. The princess travelled under the charge of Henry, third Baron Fitzhugh, who held an important position at the court of Henry IV; he was made Constable of England at the coronation of Henry V, and seems to have been on terms of intimacy with both these monarchs. By some means Fitzhugh's attention was drawn to the monastery of Wadstena, the chronicle of which records his visit to it. He volunteered to found a branch of the order of St Bridget in England, and promised the gift of a manor, Hinton near Cambridge, on condition that some of the order took possession of it within three years.

In consequence of Fitzhugh's visit and offer a priest and two deacons professing the order of St Bridget were elected at Wadstena in 1408, and sent to England. Blunt considers it probable[4*] that it was by the advice of Fitzhugh that Henry V about this time devoted manors at Sheen and Isleworth to religious purposes. Carthusian monks were settled at Sheen, nuns of St Bridget were settled at Isleworth,--and the two settlements were called respectively Bethlehem and Sion. In February of 1415 Henry V in the presence of the bishop of London laid the foundation stone of a building destined for the nuns near Twickenham, and in March the royal charter was drawn up and signed. By this the members   [p. 386]   of the new settlement were bound 'to celebrate Divine Service for ever for our healthful estate while we live and for our souls when we shall have departed this life, and for the souls of our most dear lord and father (Henry IV) late king of England, and Mary his late wife, etc.' Before the close of the year four consecrated Swedish sisters, three novices and two brothers arrived in England from Wadstena. They were sent by the king and queen of Sweden and were sped on their way by the archbishop of Lund and other dignitaries.

The settlement at Sion had been granted an income of a thousand marks, to be drawn from the royal exchequer until the permanent endowments made to it should amount to that sum. In 1418 Pope Martin V received the house under his special protection; the first profession or monastic engagement took place two years later. Twenty-four nuns, five priests, two deacons and four lay brothers pronounced their vows before archbishop Chicheley of Canterbury (1420). And before the close of Henry's reign (1422) the house was endowed with manors and spiritualities, scattered over the land from Kent to the Lake district, which were chiefly appropriated from the possessions of alien priorles.

The appropriation of alien priories forms an interesting episode in the history of English monasticism, for it constitutes a prelude to the dissolution of monasteries generally. While men were becoming critical of religious institutions owing to the spread of Lollard doctrines, the Lancastrian kings appropriated the lands and the revenues of alien priories and made use of them to fortify the Church and monasticism, thus counteracting influences which in the first instance had made the appropriation of these houses possible.

The number of alien priories in England is differently quoted as a hundred and a hundred and forty.[5*] Most of them had been founded soon after the Conquest, when the gift of a manor on English soil to a foreign house had brought over from France a few monks and nuns, who after defraying the expenses of their houses remitted any surplus revenue or else forwarded a sum of money in lieu of it to the parent house. When the relations between France and England became strained it appeared advisable to sever the connection between the foreign house and its English colonies. Edward I, when he determined on war with France, appropriated the revenues of alien priories for a time, and his   [p. 387]   successors frequently did the same; the dangers to which these cells were exposed causing some foreign houses to sever the connection by selling their English property.

The alien cells occupied by nuns were very few. Amesbury, which had been constituted a cell to Fontevraud, regained its independent standing during the wars with France;[6*] Westwood,[7*] another cell of Fontevraud, and Levenestre or Liminster in Surrey, a cell of Almanache in Normandy, were dispersed, and the abbess of Almanache treated for the sale of the property.[8*]

After many attempts to interfere with foreign cells Henry V resolved on their final sequestration (1414), and it was part of the property thus appropriated which was bestowed on the houses called Bethlehem and Sion.

The chief information we have on the conventual life of the women assembled at Sion is contained in a set of ' additional rules' written in English 'for the sisters of the order of St Saviour and St Bridget'.[9*] The same rules exist in a manuscript of contemporaneous date adapted to the use of the brothers, whose duties, save in a few particulars, were similar. They acted as priests and confessors to the double community. The chapel had a double chancel, each with its separate stalls; it was divided by a 'crate' or grille which did not prevent the brothers and sisters from being visible to each other during divine service. The gate of this grille was kept locked, and was only opened for the entrance and departure of the clergy when they said mass at the altar of the sisters' chapel. The lay brothers of the settlement acted as labourers, and had no part in the government of the house.

The additional rules for the sisters are grouped together in fifty-nine chapters, and contain most elaborate directions not only as to the occupation, behaviour and special duties of the various inmates of the convent, but for exigencies of every kind. After directions about the holding of the Chapter, lists of defaults are worked out, grouped under the headings of light, grievous, more grievous and most grievous (c. 1--7). 'A careful consideration of this code of "defaultes" and their penalties,' says Blunt,[10*] 'leads to the conclu   [p. 388]   sion that it was intended as an exhaustive list of possible crimes, and that it offers no ground for believing that the Sisters of Sion were ever guilty of them or ever incurred the severer punishments enjoined in connection with them.' Among 'light defaults' we note such as neglect in religious observance and in washing; among 'grievous defaults,' despising the common doctrine as taught by the holy fathers, and going unconfessed for fourteen days. 'More grievous defaults' are such as sowing discord, theft, and using sorcery or witchcraft; 'most grievous defaults' are manslaughter, fleshly sin, and blasphemy. We gather from the directions that one mode of severe punishment was imprisonment, whereas 'discipline' was administered regularly by the sisters to each other. The power of the abbess over the members of the convent was absolute; she is spoken of in these rules sometimes as sovereign, sometimes as majesty. It was she who decreed punishment and penance, and when the bishop enjoined correction in consequence of an enquiry, she decided upon and administered it. Twenty-eight questions, which the bishop on the occasion of his visitation was allowed to put to the abbess and the convent, are given (c.10). They refer to devotional duties, to the observance of fasts, etc. One question (nr 10) enquires of the sisters how they are occupied when they are not at divine service or at conventual observances; another (nr 18) if there be an inventory or register of the books of the library, and how they and other books of study are kept; again another (nr 26) enquires as to the state of the infirmary.

A caution against slander suggests a curious idea of equity. If any sister bring an accusation against another before the bishop, she shall not be heard 'unless bound to the pain if she fail in proof, that she whom she accuses shall have, if she be found guilty.'

Among the men who necessarily had access to the women's conventual buildings, physicians, workmen and labourers are enumerated.

The election of a new abbess (c. 12) was effected by the sisters alone within three days of the occurrence of a vacancy. It was not managed in quite the same way as elsewhere. The prioress proposed a name, and if the sisters voted unanimously in favour of it, the election was called 'by the way of the Holy Ghost.' But if they did not agree, they named a candidate and the ballot was repeated till a sufficient majority was obtained. The election was not valid unless confirmed by the bishop. When the abbess   [p. 389]   pronounced the words of her 'obedience' she was supported by a learned man of law or notary, besides the confessor of the house and two brothers. The confessor was appointed at the discretion of the abbess herself, the 'sadder' or elderly sisters and the brothers; but the other appointments were made by the abbess alone (c. 13). She appointed the sisters to office and could remove them. As elsewhere, she was obliged to do so in the chapter-house in the presence of the convent.

The rules of keeping silence, the year of proof, and the instruction and profession of novices, are fully discussed (c. 15). The account of how the sisters were professed is supplemented by Aungier.[11*] He gives an additional description of the ceremony in church, probably of somewhat later date, and of the interrogatory through which the bishop put the prospective nun. The first question which he put was to this effect: 'Art thou free and unfettered by any bond of the Church, or of wedlock; of vow, or of excommunication?' to which she made answer, 'I am truly free.' The bishop then asked: 'Does not shame, or perchance grief of worldly adversity, urge thee to a religious profession, or perhaps the multitude of thy debts compel thee?' To which she answered: 'Neither grief nor shame incites me to this, but a fervent love of Christ; and I have already paid all my debts according to my power,' etc. I have not met with similar questions in any other place.

In the additional rules directions are also given about singing and keeping the hours and the festivals (c. 18--44). The day at Sion was divided by the seven 'hours' in the usual way. At the hours in chapel the 'sadder' or elder sisters sang together with the younger ones or 'song-sisters.' The 'observance of the altar' at both masses belonged to the brothers; it was so arranged that the brothers' service came first and the sisters' began when that of the brothers ended. In addition to the usual hours and masses two ceremonies were daily observed at Sion. One was the singing of the psalm De Profundis at an open grave to which the whole convent wended its way after tierce. The other consisted of a prayer addressed to Mary in chapel before evensong, from which none of the sisters was to absent herself except for an important reason.

A number of festivals were celebrated at Sion with special   [p. 390]   services and processions (c. 29). Among them were the feast of the Circumcision, the translation of St Bridget and the day of St John the Baptist 'when their feasts fall on Sunday and not else' also Palm Sunday, St Mark's day, Rogation Sunday, St Peter and St Paul, St Anne's, Michaelmas, all the feasts of Our Lady and all the principal or high double feasts of the year. On these occasions the sisters walked two and two in procession, and the sister who was sexton bore the 'image of our lady' after the cross, and two torches were carried on either side a little before the image. The additional rules contain directions to the sisters on the arrangement of divine service on these occasions, and further directions in the rule for the brothers minutely describe the elaborate ritual which took place.

The additional rules also contain a full description of the duties of each appointment in the convent (c. 45). The choir in church was led by a chauntres and subchauntres who should be 'cunning and perfect in reading and singing.' It was the duty of the ebdornary, or weekly appointed nun (c. 46), to be one of the first in choir; she was 'to abstayn and withdrawe herself from alle thynges that wyke that myght lette her to performe her office.' When the abbess did not execute the service the ebdomary began the Invitatory; and she always gave the third blessing after the abbess had read the third lesson. She also fulfilled the office of the abbess at the principal feasts, except in such things as belonged exclusively to the abbess.

We hear also of the duties of the sexton, sexteyne (c. 48), who kept the church ornaments and the altar 'whole and sound, fair, clean and honest,' and who saw to the washing of altar-cloths, awbes or surplices. She was not allowed to touch or wash the hallowed corporas or cloths with bare hands, but was obliged to wear linen gloves, and in starching the cloths she was directed to use starch made of herbs only. The sexton had in her keeping wax, lamps, oil and all other things belonging to the church; she had to provide for the church syngynge or communion brede, sudarys, wax-candles, tallow-candles, wax rolls, tapers, torches, mats, nattes, and roundlettes; and she provided for the penners, pens, ink, inkhorns, tables, and all else that the abbess asked of her. Also she opened and shut the doors and windows of the sisters' choir and common places, lighted and extinguished tapers and candles, and snuffed them 'in such wise and in such time that the sisters be not grieved with the savour.'

  [p. 391]  

It was the duty of the sexton to ring the bells in the women's part of the house; the ringing of a bell regulated throughout the life of those assembled at Sion. It roused the brothers and sisters from sleep, summoned them to church, called them to meals, and ever and anon gave notice for a devotional pause in whatever occupation was going on at the moment. When one of the community passed away from life the large or curfew bell was tolled continuously.

Another appointment in the women's convent was that of the legister or reader at meals (c. 50), who was directed to read out distinctly and openly, that all might understand, whatever the abbess or chauntress had assigned. On one day of the week she read out the rule. Absolute silence reigned during meals. If anyone had a communication to make, this was done by means of signs, used also at other times when silence was to be observed. A curious 'table of signs used during the hours of silence by the sisters and brothers in the monastery of Sion' was drawn up by Thomas Betsone,[12*] one of the brothers. Together with other tables of the kind, it suggests the origin of the method by which the deaf and dumb were formerly taught.

At Sion the abbess had her meals with the sisters, sitting at a high table while they sat at side tables (c.51--52), and the servitors or lay sisters waited. When they had done the sisters wiped their knives and spoons on the napkins (without washing them?); they were to guard against spotting the cloth, and spilling the food, and were directed to put away their cups and spoons honest and clean (without washing them?) into the 'coffyns' which were kept underneath the table, or in some other place ordered by the abbess. At the end of a meal the sisters swept together the crumbs with their napkins, and then, at a sign from the abbess, they bore the food away to the serving-house. The youngest sister took the first dish, and each one carried away something according to age. The language in which the utensils are described presents some difficulties. They carried away the drink and then 'the garnapes that they sette on, ther pottes and cruses, after thys, brede, hole, kytte, cantelles, ande crommes, and laste of alle salt,' ending evermore with the abbess or president, and inclining to each sister as they took them up and they again to them.

The behaviour of the sisters to each other and to the abbess in the refectory, the dormitory, the chapter-house, etc. was carefully   [p. 392]   regulated (c. 53). The sisters when they met the abbess bowed to her, 'for love without reverence is but childish love.' The desire for refinement in bearing and behaviour is manifested throughout by these directions, and some of them are curious. Thus the sister who washed her hands was directed not to 'jutte up' the water on another, nor to spit in the lavatory, nor to presume to go without her veil and crown upon her head, except only in her cell, washing-house, etc. Judging from this reference to cells, the dormitory at Sion was divided by partitions or curtains, so that each sister practically had a room to herself.

Many details are then given concerning the duties of the prioress and other appointments. The nuns appointed to enquire into shortcomings are here designated as serchers (c. 55). The treasurer and her fellow kept the muniments of the monastery and its possessions in gold and silver in the treasury, in a large chest to which there were two keys, one kept by the treasurer and the other by her fellow (c. 56). These sisters also provided and paid for all necessary medicines, spices and powders, etc.

Duties of no small importance devolved on the chambres, or mistress of the wardrobe, who saw to the raiment of the sisters and the brothers, both in regard to linen and to woollen clothes, shaping, sewing, making, repairing and keeping them from 'wormes,' and shaking them with 'the help of other sisters.' I transcribe in the original spelling the things she is told to provide: 'canuas for bedyng, fryses, blankettes, shetes, bolsters, pelowes, couerlites, cuschens, basens, stamens, rewle cotes, cowles, mantelles, wymples, veyles, crownes, pynnes, cappes, nyght kerchyfes, pylches, mantel furres, cuffes, gloues, hoses, shoes, botes, soles, sokkes, mugdors (sic), gyrdelles, purses, knynes, laces, poyntes, nedells, threde,--waschyng bolles and sope--(written in the margin) and for all other necessaries, as directed by the abbess, which shall not be over curious but plain and homely, without wearing of any strange colours of silk, gold or silver, having all things of honesty and profit and nothing of vanity after the rule, their knives unpointed and purses being double of linen cloth, and not silk.'

In illustration of the office of the chambress, Blunt has published a document preserved in the Record Office, which contains the account of Dame Bridget Belgrave, chambress at Sion from Michaelmas 1536 to Michaelmas 1537, the year preceding the dissolution.[13*] This shows that the chambress provided   [p. 393]   the material for the dress of the sisters and other items. She buys russettes, white cloth, kerseys, fryce, Holland cloth and other linen cloth mostly by the piece, which varies in the number of its yards; she provides soap, calf-skins, thread, needles and thimbles; she purchases new spectacles and has old ones mended. Among many other items of interest we find fox-skins, paper, and pins of divers sorts; she sets down a sum for burying poor folks, and 'expences at London,' from which we gather that she had been there; and pays 'rewards' and 'wages' to the grome, the skynner, and the shumakers.

The duties of the cellaress stand next in the additional rules (c. 56), and they recall the complex duties belonging to the same post at Barking. Blunt has also illustrated these duties by publishing the accounts, rendered by Dame Agnes Merrett, for the last year preceding the dissolution.[14*] This cellaress also charged herself with various sums received for hides, calf-skins and woolfelles or sheep-skins. She received payment for boarding My Lady Kyngeston and her servants, and sister Elizabeth Nelson. She received rent from various tenants and managed the home farm at Isleworth. We hear of her buying horses, cattle, hogs and peacocks for its storing. Its dairy was managed by paid servants. This cellaress, like her fellow at Barking, purchased provisions and fish for the use of the convent, but her entries are more numerous and infer a higher standard of living, perhaps due to the fact that these accounts are more than a hundred years later than the 'charge of the cellaress at Barking.' The cellaress at Sion also bought salt salmon, herrings by the barrel, and red herrings by the caade' also stubbe eels. She further bought spices, fruits, sugar, nutmegs, almonds, currants, ginger, isinglass, pepper, cinnamon, cloves, mace, figge doodes (sic), topnettes (sic), great raisins, prunes, saffron and rice. Her 'foreign payments' include seed for the garden, boat-hire, and expenses at London, by which we see that she too, like the chambress of the house, had been there. Among her other expenses are rewards to the 'clerke of the kechyn,' the 'baily of the husbandry,' the 'keper of the covent (convent) garden,' and the 'cookes.' Members of the convent were deputed by the abbess to look after the sick (c. 57), and the writer insists upon the need of gentleness and patience in dealing with them.

'Often change their beds and clothes,' he says, 'give them medicines, lay to them plaisters and minister to them meat and   [p. 394]   drink, fire and water, and all other necessaries night and day, as need requires after the counsel of the physicians, and precept of the sovereign; do not be squeamish in washing and wiping them by avoiding them, be not angry nor hasty, nor impatient though one have the vomit, another the flux, another the frenzy, and now sings, now cries, now laughs, now weeps, now chides, now is frightened, now is wroth, now well apayde, for there be some sickness vexing the sick so greatly and provoking them to ire that the matter drawn up to the brain alienates the mind. And therefore those in attendance should have much patience with them, that thereby they may secure an everlasting crown.

Aungier has also reprinted lists of the capabilities of indulgence granted to Sion, and of the pardons secured by those who offered prayers in the chapel there.[15*] This shows one of the means by which money was secured to religious houses in the 15th century. Indulgences were granted at Sion on almost every festival in the year. By 'devoutly giving somewhat to the reparation of the said monastery' and offering prayers on Midlent Sunday, the visitor at Sion might secure pardon extending from a hundred days to 'clean remission of all sin except in the points which are reserved to the Pope.' To give alms on the feast of St Bridget, the patron saint of the house, secured to him who sought help 'pardon and clean remission in all cases reserved and unreserved,' according to the wording of the document. This power, as the manuscript informs us, had been granted 'by diverse holy fathers, popes at Rome, archbishops, bishops, cardinals and legates.' Aungier supplements it by printing a document which came from Norfolk on the capabilities of pardon possessed by different religious houses.[16*] There are entries in this referring to the 'pardoun of beyds' of the Charterhouse of Mount Grace and of the Charterhouse at Sheen, and to the pardon of beads at Sion and at the 'Crossed Friars' beside London Tower.

A number of devotional books were written for the nuns at Sion; some in Latin, some in English. A few of the service books of the house have been preserved. Among them is the Martyrology which was in daily use among the brothers and which contains historical memoranda, accounts of the saints, the records of the   [p. 395]   deaths of the sisters, brothers and benefactors of the house between 1422 and 1639, and extracts from religious writers. This martyrology accompanied the women's convent on their wanderings, and since their return it has been acquired by the British Museum.[17*] A translation of it into English was made by Richard Whytford († 1542), a brother of Sion, 'for the edificacyon of certayn religyous persones unlerned that dayly dyd rede the same martiloge in Latyn not understandynge what they redde.'[18*] Whytford wrote other religious books, among them the 'Pype or Tonne of Perfection' the 'Fruyte of redempcyon,' which is now held to be by 'Simon, the anker of London,' has been attributed to him.

Among other books written for the nuns is a curious discourse in English by Thomas Fishbourne, father confessor in 1420, to which is added a portion of the gospel of St Peter ad Vincula.[19*] It contains a discussion on the nature of pardons and indulgences, particularly of those procured at Rome. Symon Wynter, another brother of the house (1428), wrote a treatise for them in praise of the Virgin (Regina Coeli);[20*] and Thomas Prestius wrote instructions for the novices.[21*] The house owned a large library, to the celebrity of which Sir Richard Sutton added by a splendid work printed at his expense by Wynkyn de Worde in 1519 and called in honour of the monastery 'The Orchard of Syon'.[22*]

The most important work in English however compiled for the nuns was a devotional treatise on divine service with a translation into English of the Offices, called the 'Mirror of Our Lady,' first printed in 1530, the authorship of which is attributed by its latest editor, Blunt, to Thomas Gascoigne (1403--1458).[23*] Gascoigne was an eminent divine, at one time Chancellor of the University of Oxford; he caused the life of St Bridget to be translated into English and bequeathed most of his books by will to the sisters at Sion. The Offices in this book are amplified, and Blunt was much struck by the similarity of many passages to the Book of Common Prayer. The purpose of the writer is expressed in the following words:[24*]

'As many of you, though you can sing and read, yet you cannot   [p. 396]   see what the meaning thereof is... I have drawn your legend and all your service into English, that you see by the understanding thereof, how worthy and holy praising of our glorious Lady is contained therein, and the more devoutly and knowingly sing it and read it, and say it to her worship.'

The 'Mirror of Our Lady' is very instructive with regard to the just estimation of the position and feelings of religious women during the later Middle Ages. There is much in it that is eloquent, refined, and beautiful, but its insistence on detail is sometimes wearisome. The style of the writer is fitly illustrated by the following passages, which are taken from the introductory treatise on the reading of religious books.[25*] The wording of the original is retained as closely as possible, but the spelling is modernized.

'Devout reading of holy books is called one of the parts of contemplation, for it causes much grace and comfort to the soul if it be well and discreetly used. And much reading is often lost for lack of diligence, that it is not intended as it ought to be. Therefore if you will profit in reading you must keep these five things. First you ought to take heed what you read, that it be such thing as is speedwell for you to read and convenient to the degree you stand in. For you ought to read no worldly matters nor worldly books, namely such as are without reason of ghostly edification or belong not to the need of the house; you ought also to read no books that speak of vanities and trifles, and much less no books of evil or occasion to evil. For since your holy rule forbids you all vain and idle words in all times and places, by the same it forbids you reading of all vain and idle things, for reading is a manner of speaking. The second, when you begin to read or to hear such books of ghostly fruit as accord for you to read or to hear, that then you dispose yourselves thereto with meek reverence and devotion.. .The third that you labour to understand the same thing that you read. For Cato taught his son to read so his precepts that he understand them. For it is, he says, great negligence to read and not to understand. And therefore when you read by yourself alone you ought not to be hasty to read much at once but you ought to abide thereupon, and sometimes read a thing again twice or thrice or oftener till you understand it clearly. For St Austin said that no man should seen to understand a thing sufficiently in any wise by once reading. And if you   [p. 397]   cannot understand what you read, ask of others that can teach you. And they that can ought not to be loth to teach others... .The fourth thing that is to be kept in reading is that you dress so your intent that your reading and study be not only for to be cunning or for to be able to speak it forth to others, but principally to inform yourself and to set it forth in your own living... .The fifth thing is discretion. So that according to the matter you arrange your reading. For you must understand that different books speak in different wise. For some books are made to inform the understanding and to tell how spiritual persons ought to be governed in all their living that they may know how they shall live and what they shall do, how they shall labour in cleansing their conscience and in getting virtues, how they shall withstand temptation and suffer tribulations, and how they shall pray and occupy themselves with ghostly exercise, with many such other full holy doctrines.... Other books there be that are made to quicken and to stir up the affections of the soul, as some that tell of the sorrows and dreads of death and of doom and of pains, to stir up the affection of dread and of sorrow for sin. Some tell of the great benefits of our Lord God, how He made us and bought us and what love and mercy He shewed continually to us to stir up our affections of love and of hope in Him. Some tell of the joys of heaven, to stir up the affections of joy to desire thitherward. And some tell of the foulness and wretchedness of sin, to stir up the affections of hate and loathing thereagainst.'


[1*] Aungier, G. J. History and Antiquities of Syon,1840; Myroure of Oure Ladye,Early English Text Soc., 1873, Introduction by Blunt, J.H.

[2*] Hammerich, Den hellige Birgitta,1863.

[3*] A.S. Boll.,St. Birgitta vidua, Oct. 8.

[4*] Myroure of Oure Ladye, Introd. p. xiv.

[5*] Gasquet, A.,Henry VIII and the English Monasteries,1888, vol. I, p. 42.

[6*] Dugdale, Monasticon, 'Amesbury,' vol. I, p. 333.

[7*] Ibid. 'Westwood,' vol. 6, p. 1004.

[8*] Ibid. 'Levenestre,' vol. 6, p. 1032.

[9*] Aungier, G. J.,History and Antiquities of Syon, 1840, p. 249 ff., from Arundel MS. nr 146 (chapter references throughout the text in this chapter are to this reprint).

[10*] Myroure of Oure Ladye, Introd. p. xxxv.

[11*] Aungier, G. J. History and Antiquities of Syon, 1840, p. 312 ff., from Additional MS. nr 5208.

[12*] Aungier, G. J., History and Antiquities of Syon, 1840, pp. 405 ff. 'A table of signs.'

[13*] Myroure of Oure Ladye,Introd. p. xxvi.

[14*] Myroure of Oure Ladye,Introd. p. xxix.

[15*] Aungier, G. J., History and Antiquities of Syon, 1840, p. 421, 'Indulgentia monasterii de Syon,' MS. Ashmol. nr 750; p. 422, 'The Pardon of the monastery of Shene which is Syon,' MS. Harleian 4012, art. 9.

[16*] Ibid. p. 426, footnotes.

[17*] Myroure of Oure Ladye, Introd. p. xiv. B. M. Addit. MS., nr 22285.

[18*] Printed by Wynkyn de Worde (?), 1526; reprinted for the Bradshaw Society, 1893.

[19*] Aungier, G. J., History and Antiquities of Syon, 1840, p. 529. MS. Harleian 2321, fol. 17 ff.

[20*] Ibid. p. 527.

[21*] Ibid. p. 527.

[22*] Ibid. p. 526.

[23*] Myroure of Oure Ladye, Introd. p. ix.

[24*] Ibid. p. 2.

[25*] Myroure of Oure Ladye, p. 65 ff.

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