Our History: A Brief Sketch

history nun

‘We have come out of seeming chaos and the melting pot’

– Sr Hilary Margaret (1944)

Foundation

Our history as a community is rooted in the mid-nineteenth century revival of Religious Life in the Church of England, which was part of a broader movement to re-cover its Catholic heritage and identity. Founded in 1941 at St Thomas’ Convent in Oxford as Third Order Regulars of the Community of St Mary the Virgin, Wantage (CSMV), the Society of the Salutation was one of the last of these “Victorian” foundations.

The intention was to provide for women who had a vocation to the Religious Life but were prevented through age, health or some other hindrance from entering existing communities.

Although these early years were marked by a high degree of uncertainty and experimentation, they came to embrace fully their original contemplative charism under the Augustinian Rules of CSMV and the Vistation Order of François de Sales.

The coming of Christ’s Kingdom on earth and the Unity of His Body, the Church, had been established as the special direction of their intercession from the outset, and ecumenical witness has been central to our life ever since.

St Thomas' Convent
Convent of St Thomas the Martyr, Oxford

Burford & Benedictinism

In 1949 the community became independent from CSMV under the leadership of Sr Rebe, and after a nomadic decade spent in Oxford, Wantage (St Katherine’s and St Agnes’ House) and Cuddesdon (The Bishops Palace), the community moved to Burford Priory, the Elizabethan manor house in Oxfordshire which would be its home for the next fifty-nine years. By this time it had moved away from the reserved Tractarianism that characterised Wantage towards a more Anglo-Papalist identity, and under the guidance of monks from Nashdom Abbey it gradually embraced a Benedictine way of life. In 1950 it sought formal recognition as a Benedictine community and in 1952 the first five Sisters took Benedictine Solemn vows. As Mother Mary Gabriel, Sr Rebe became the first Prioress. Until the change wrought by Vatican II, the Sisters embarked on a strict and austere life of full enclosure. Printing, embroidery and hospitality were some of the work for which Burford became well-known.

Nuns at Burford
The Community at Burford Priory (1953)

ATB (‘After the Boys’)

A third phase of the community’s life was entered when, in 1987, Mother Mary Bernard took the decision to admit two male postulants. There were then only six remaining Sisters, mostly of them elderly. Although the decision had been criticised in some quarters – it created the first mixed Anglican community – it paved the way for renewal and remains an important witness to our unity in Christ.

In 2007 the decision was made to sell Burford Priory and build a new, purpose-built monastery that reflected our commitment to sustainability and to working out a contemporary expression of Benedictine life that could speak to the twenty-first century. Three years later we moved into our current home at Mucknell Abbey

Brothers and Sisters
Br Thomas and Br Robert with the Sisters