Tyanna Lee Yonkers
for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Tuesday, May 13, 2014
2:30p.m., Caldwell Hall, Room 125-15
the spirituality of the bridgettine sisters of syon abbey in the context of the spirituality of english women of the late 15th and 16th centuries
Director: Rev. Regis Armstrong, O.F.M.Cap., Ph.D.
In 1415, King Henry V established The Monastery of Saint Savior, Saint Mary, and Saint Bridget of Syon in Middlesex, England. Syon Abbey, as it was more commonly known, was a double monastery of women from prominent families and well-educated men who together followed the Rule of Saint Augustine (The rewyl of Seynt Austyn) and the rule of Saint Bridget of Sweden (The Rewyll of Seynt Sauioure). These legislative materials, coupled with their Additions, enabled this monastic house to embrace a pattern of life dedicated to cultivating contemplative prayer and devotional study. Syon quickly developed a reputation as a citadel of people committed to a passion for learning undergirded by their love for God and devotion to Mary. By the time of the dissolution, Syon was known for both its wealth, its physical and spiritual benefits to the community, and its libraries which were unequaled by any other English monastery of the day.
At question is the influence of Syon’s spirituality over the women faithful of England in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Bridgettine Syon Abbey was a matriarchal centered house designated in Bridget’s Rewyll as founded by Christ “first & prinpally by women” for the “worship” of Mary. Syon was under the leadership of an abbess, who was responsible for the supreme governance of the entire monastery. A confessor general, who was responsible for only the spiritual wellbeing of the professed, aided her. Also holding great sway of a feminine spirituality influence, was The Orcherd of Syon, a paraphrase of Catherine of Siena’s Il Dialogo, written specifically for Syon.
Using an interdisciplinary methodology, this study explores the spirituality emanating from Syon and its influence on the spirituality of the aristocratic and gentry class women of England who were in some way connected with the abbey as evidenced by the books they owned, published, and/or willed to others. This study shows the influence of the women of Syon on their female constituents. It reveals how Syon empowered them, or at least gave them ‘permission’, to study and eventually to take up their pens and write. The study concludes with examination of a symbol that arises from Syon exemplifying the abbey’s spiritual influence on the women of England of this era.