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It gives me great pleasure to announce the publication today of The Chronicles of Nazareth (The English Convent), Bruges 1629-1793, edited by Dr Caroline Bowden, volume 87 in the Catholic Record Society‘s Records Series. It was a great privilege to preside over the publication of this volume as general editor for the Catholic Record Society, marking a fitting end to my period as the Society’s Volumes Editor since 2015. I have more than a passing connection with the English Convent, which remains the last surviving English religious house on the Continent (see this earlier post about my visit there in August 2015). When I was a member of the Community of Reconciliation at Hengrave Hall in 1998-99 I became fascinated by the Augustinian Canonesses from Bruges who established their community in exile at Hengrave between 1794 and 1802. In 2002 I met two present-day Canonesses from Bruges who came to Hengrave to mark the bicentenary of the community’s return to Bruges, and in 2004 my first peer-reviewed article appeared in Recusant History on the subject of Prioress Mary More and the exile at Hengrave. However, the community ended up at Hengrave in 1794 because of the Gage family’s connection with the convent, and indeed the community contained many East Anglian members.
The English Convent’s Chronicle, of which this is the first volume, is without doubt one of the most important documents of the English Catholic diaspora in early modern Europe – partly because it is exceptionally detailed, and partly because the city of Bruges was a critical junction for English Catholic exiles. Periodic wars with France meant that English exiles often preferred to live in the Austrian Netherlands, where the English Convent was the most prestigious English foundation, renowned for its hospitality to high and low alike. The Chronicle is much more, therefore, than an inward-looking record of a religious community; it is an essential record of the English diaspora at large.