Yesterday a number of our confrères were able to visit Leiston abbey in Suffolk. The abbey was originally founded in 1182 at Minsmere (about 4 miles from Leiston) by Ranulf de Glanvill, the Chief Justiciar of England under King Henry II. Ranulf, who had a strong dislike for monks (!) desired that ‘his’ abbey should rank as one of the most powerful of the Premonstratensian abbeys in England. Therefore there was no ‘mother house’ of Leiston – rather the abbot of Durford and a number of canons from Welbeck were sent to constitute the first community. Eventually the abbot of Welbeck was to become recognised as the ‘father abbot’ of Leiston. Ranulf endowed the abbey with lands and benefices and built fine churches for the abbey.
The abbey was originally sited at Minsmere where the conventual buildings were located next to the sea, however erosion of the property caused by local conditions caused a move inland to be necessary by the 14th century. This new abbey was built under the patronage of Robert, earl of Suffolk and indulgences were granted to those who would help with the abbey’s re-location. The old chapel near the sea was still maintained however and the British Museum holds a prayer-book from 1480 that belonged to John Greene, abbot of Leiston, who in 1531 retired to the chapel to live as a hermit.
As with all our ancient houses in England, Leiston was dissolved under Henry VIII and the lands and buildings taken and put into private hands. Today however the ruins of the abbey are still extensive and one can cleary view the site of the church, the cloister, the refectory and gatehouse. It is always a joy for us English Premonstratensians to visit the sites of the labours and prayers of our forbearers and of course to pray for them there.