Today is publication day for my book Monasticism in Suffolk, which is a comprehensive history and gazetteer of all past and present monastic houses in Suffolk. While Suffolk’s parish churches are much celebrated, many of the county’s monasteries are little known and understood. This evening I launched the book at St Edmund’s Catholic Church in Bungay, which is one of two monastic churches in the county still run by Benedictine monks; the church is also in the precincts of a medieval house of Benedictine nuns, and is thus a site where Suffolk’s monastic past and present meet. A surprise visitor at the launch was the Rt Revd Martin Seeley, Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich.
Monasticism in Suffolk is my personal contribution to this year’s millennium celebrations of Suffolk’s most significant monastic anniversary – the foundation of St Edmunds Abbey in Bury St Edmunds. The focus of the book is not, however, on Bury St Edmunds (the subject of an earlier book in 2016), but rather on Suffolk’s other monastic houses – of which there were over fifty in the Middle Ages, ranging from large monasteries like Bury, Butley and Leiston to tiny cells of two monks or canons. The book deals equally with monasteries of men and women, as well as tracing the origins of Suffolk monasticism back into the Anglo-Saxon period and moving forward into the post-dissolution period to examine the revival of monasticism in modern times.
Monasticism in Suffolk is the first complete monastic history of any county – and Suffolk was a county particularly well-endowed with monasteries, which have left their traces in the landscape. In addition to impressive monastic ruins at sites such as Bury, Leiston, Herringfleet and Dunwich, a number of today’s parish churches today were once monastic churches, and many Suffolk houses bear titles such as ‘abbey’ and ‘priory’ – a reminder that they were built on monastic sites or, at least, were once owned by a monastery. One of Suffolk’s ancient monasteries was even re-established in 1953: Clare Priory, the first house of Augustinian friars in England, was revived by friars from the Irish Province of the Augustinian Friars (which was originally founded by friars from Clare in the Middle Ages). I am very grateful to the Prior Provincial of the Augustinian Friars of England and Scotland, Fr Robert Marsh OSA, for writing a foreword to Monasticism in Suffolk that highlights the ongoing presence of monasticism in the county.
Monasticism in Suffolk will be my fourth and last book with Lasse Press, which will no longer be publishing after this year. It was uncertain whether Lasse Press would be able to bring this book to press, and I am immensely grateful to my publisher for the effort required to prepare the book for publication under very difficult circumstances. Nevertheless, the book is here, and stands as much as a testimony to the heroic effort of the press as it does to any effort on my part.