NEW PUBLICATION: The Chronicles of Nazareth, ed. Caroline Bowden

The publication today of Caroline Bowden’s edition of the first two volumes of the chronicle of the Priory of Nazareth in Bruges (The English Convent) as volume 87 in the Catholic Record Society’s records series is a long-awaited event for historians of post-Reformation English Catholicism and female religious life in particular. The English Convent, a community of Augustinian canonesses founded from St Monica’s, Louvain in 1629 was one of the most historically significant houses of English female religious, and unique among them insofar as it survived the French Revolution in its original location, returning to Flanders in 1802. To this day, the Community of Nazareth continues to occupy the original buildings in the Carmerstraat, and is now the sole surviving religious house in Continental Europe founded by post-Reformation English exiles.

The popularity of the English Convent as a school extended beyond the English recusant community, and many Protestants also sent their daughters to be educated by the canonesses. Furthermore, the absence of a strict enclosure at the English Convent and its policy of accommodating long-term lay boarders and guests meant that the English Convent was the epicentre of English expatriate life in the southern Netherlands. The chronicle is far more than just a record of a religious community, therefore, and gives a valuable insight into the benefactors of the community and the wider network of recusants living in or visiting Bruges during the period. The community received the notable patronage of the Herbert marquesses of Powys and Lady Nithsdale. The convent was strongly associated with the Jacobite cause and frequently a centre of political intrigue in the first half of the eighteenth century.

The two volumes of the chronicle published here run from the foundation of the convent from St Monica’s in 1629 to the perilous years leading up to the canonesses’ exile in England, which lasted between 1794 and 1802. Plans are in train to edit the third volume of the chronicle, documenting the community’s sojourn at Hengrave Hall in Suffolk and its return and restoration, at some time in the future. The community’s seventeenth- and eighteenth-century chronicle is far more than just a bare year-by-year narrative of events, and is a lively and engaging account that vividly brings to life the personalities of the convent – including those whom the chronicler struggled to describe in charitable terms! The volume is provided with an expert introduction by its editor, Caroline Bowden, one of the foremost authorities on post-Reformation female religious life, and is illustrated with previously unpublished drawings of the English Convent and helpful maps and plans. The Chronicles of Nazareth is essential reading for anyone interested in the history of female religious or the English Catholic expatriate community.

Members of the Catholic Record Society will shortly receive their volume. Others can purchase a copy via the Boydell & Brewer webpage.


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