The Premonstratensians in Essex

The earliest record of Premonstratensians in Essex is a note in the chronicle of Ralph, abbot of Coggeshall that in the year 1180 ‘the canons of Great Parndon, near Harlow moved to Maldon’ . Certainly the Premonstratensians had established a house in Essex before 1172, when we find the name ‘Robert, abbot of Parndon’ mentioned in a charter. Whilst there is no evidence suggesting the identity of the first benefactor of the community at Parndon, much of the later lands later held there were the gift of Robert, son of Roger of Parndon. Robert Mantel, the Lord of Little Maldon gifted the canons with land at Beeleigh situated next to the river Chelmer and he is regarded in all later records at the founder of Beeleigh Abbey . This Robert also gave to the canons of Beeleigh the churches of All Saints and St. Peter’s in Maldon, St. Margaret in Bowers and St. Laurence in Dengie. Lady Roesia Mantel, Robert’s wife, gave to the canons land in Mincing Lane in the city of London. Parishes cared for by the canons of Beeleigh were also in Alkham, Lesdon, Lydden, Oxney, Pembury, Postling, River, Shepherdswell, Tonge, Waldeshare, Walmer, West Greenwich and West Langdon . Besides these parish the abbey owned lands in London, Great Parndon, Wickford, St. Laurence, Purleigh, Little Maldon, Stow, Woodham Mortimer, Woodham Walter, Tillingham, Burnham, Cold Norton, Magdalen Laver, Chignal Zoyn, Rowell, Writtle, Mousham, Ulting, Goldhanger, Tollesbury, Langford and Great Totham .
                     The abbey at Beeleigh was dedicated to SS. Mary and Nicholas and though the exact origin of the canons is unknown in 1478 we find that Beeleigh is described as a daughter house of Newhouse, the first Premonstratensian abbey in Britain. Little is known of the first one hundred years of the abbey, save the name of its abbots and lands. In 1289 King Edward I visited on September 9th when Mass was offered for his steward. The abbey also became a place of pilgrimage for devotees of St. Roger Niger, whose heart was buried at Beeleigh. He had been Bishop of London and though no record has been found of his canonisation Pope Boniface IX in 1391 granted indulgences to penitents who visited the abbey and gave alms on the feast of St. Roger . In the late 14th century Abbot Cok became involved in a plot against Henry IV, together with the Countess of Oxford, but making a complete confession he received the personal pardon of the queen in 1404. He died a few weeks later however, from what appeared to be the effects of poisoning . Earls of Essex was buried in the Lady Chapel of the abbey and benefactors seem to have been generous and manifold. That there seems to be little remarkable in the history of the abbey is testament to the simple life of the canons which revolved simply around the worship of God in the abbey’s liturgy and serving the people of their locality in parishes or by their prayers. Beeleigh came under the Act of 1536 and was thus dissolved, ending some 400 years or so of Premonstratensian life in Essex. The lands were leased on 8th January 1537 and the abbey passed into private ownership, as it remains to this day.
              In 2008 the Bishop of Brentwood, the Rt. Rev. Thomas McMahon arranged for the new community of Corpus Christi Canonry to move to Essex; thus heralding the return of the Order to Essex. On Wednesday 8th October the canonry of Corpus Christi transferred from St. Chad’s Priory, Manchester to St. Philip’s Priory, Chelmsford, a former Servite priory. St. Philip’s Priory is only some 8 miles from Beeleigh. On the 11th October the regular observance of Premonstratensian life was begun, marking the first time in 472 years that Premonstratensian life had been lived in Essex. The Canons serve two parishes from St. Philip’s Priory; Our Lady Immaculate and Holy Name, that the Premonstratensians have returned to parish ministry in Essex is equally important given the great role this same apostolic work played in the life of the Canons of Beeleigh. Truly, ‘that which was cut down has sprung up again’, may God bless and extend our work here for His own Honour and Glory and the salvation of souls.

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